Half-Life 2: Deathmatch

We're digging into the PC Gamer magazine archives to publish pieces from years gone by. This article was originally published in 2005. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.   

When Tim was on his super-secret Seattle mission to trick Valve into spilling on Aftermath (PCG 148), the most exciting thing he sent back to Gamer HQ—for me—wasn’t about that. It was a photo of a T-shirt, with no text and a simple white icon. A man, getting hit in the back of the head by a toilet. We are a cult, we Gravity Gunners, and this is our sign.

The smart money wasn’t on Half-Life 2 Deathmatch as the ‘surprise for the community’ Valve teasingly announced a week before its release. It was bound to be a CS:S map or a new terrorist skin. Then, on the day, everyone restarted their Steam clients and got a picture. It was of a woman, firing a toilet at a Combine guard with the Gravity Gun. We grinned.

Our previously private Gravity Gunning habits were suddenly revealed  to each other. There were sink fanatics. Filing cabinets were popular. The CRT monitor has a particular resonance with some gamers. The gamblers liked the explosive barrels—suicide if the enemy shoots it, but the splash damage means you barely need to aim. Me, I was a radiator man. It’s the biggest thing that’ll fit through a door, making it the ultimate compromise between mobility and power. It even serves as a bullet-shield one way round, and allows excellent visibility the other. And it’s heavy. Really, really heavy. The radiator doesn’t care if you’ve got full health and 200 armour—no bone goes unbroken, no victim survives.

Soon I had become a Gravity Gun connoisseur. The Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator is an elegant weapon for a more civilised age—not as clumsy or as random as the SMGs the unrefined masses favour. Most of my scores came from sweeping these crude gunmen up with large tables, fences and trolleys—killing three or four at a  time, deflecting their slugs with a door or catching their grenades and Combine Energy Balls with ease and tossing them back with distaste. But now and then, I’d run into a fellow Gravity Gunner. Our eyes would meet over our filing cabinets, and there would be a moment’s respectful pause as we took note of the crushed corpses we’d each created, perhaps recognising each other’s names from the scoreboard. Then, we’d fire.

There are three gravity duel situations: both combatants armed, one armed, or neither armed. The best battles start with the first and degenerate through each stage, and the best of these I ever had was with a fellow radiator man. Our identical projectiles collided in mid-air with sparks and a clang, both perfect first-shots, both spinning off at right angles. We switched—I grabbed his central heating unit, he mine—and flung again. One radiator ricocheted up and  landed on a balcony above, and we both turned to the other, lying on the ground between us.

The secret handshake of Gravity Gunners.

We dived for it, both holding the grab trigger of our weapons. It jumped into the air and hovered between us. Our eyes locked over its grill, neither of us sure who had it. He suddenly jumped back—he thought it was me, and wanted room to catch it. But the radiator went back with him, and after a moment’s confusion he fired. I caught it, of course—he’d given me the room for that himself. I aimed low and fired. He strafe-jumped, twisted and caught it as it bounced past. It came back at me at head-height, but I was ready for it. With each fling, though, I could feel the catch getting harder, the shots more cunning.

This is the move we use to put down Gravity Gun tourists—machinegun deathmatchers who fancy a dip into the world of object-flinging for a break. We scoff at their obvious shots, seemingly aimed into the very jaws of our own weapon. Their poor choice of object is immediately rejected and returned violently to sender, catching them off-guard and probably putting them off Gravity Gunning for some time. To return a return—playing object tennis—is like the secret handshake of the serious Gravity Gunners.

But a practised throw is harder to stop—if it comes too low or too high, it’ll end up travelling laterally across your view as you track it, requiring extraordinary reactions to pinpoint and grab it. Some shots I just had to dodge, spinning one-eighty and catching it on the rebound—and leaving my back momentarily open to anything else he might find to fling. But my shots were causing him problems too, and soon I had him in a corner, just a few metres away, and used a low shot. It was too close to catch, but incredibly he jumped and landed on it as it rattled to a stop beneath him. I went to snatch it back for another throw, but it wouldn’t budge. I looked up at him. He looked back at me, then jumped. Seizing my chance, I tried to grab the radiator. It flew towards me, but stopped further away than I expected. As I looked up, I realised what had happened. He didn’t pause this time—those toasty-warm ridges slammed into me and crushed me against the wall. I gaped appreciatively. This man was an artist.

Half-Life 2 Deathmatch is the only one of the three games you get when you buy Half-Life 2 that doesn’t gleam with polish. On a bad connection, or a bad server, the lag becomes a nightmare rather than a mere handicap—objects stutter, hover, go through things, disappear. But really, given the amount of network traffic involved in synchronising that many complex physics reactions for 20 odd players, it’s a miracle it works at all. And perfect though Counter-Strike: Source feels, when a bullet from a better player cracks my head and kills me, my reaction is frustration, outrage and expletives. When a better player kills me in HL2DM, I’m left with only breathless admiration.

If you want to imagine the future of deathmatch, imagine a toilet, hitting a human head, forever.

Half-Life

Half-Life, released at the end of 1998, did not have cooperative gameplay. That was unacceptable to Sven Viking, who on January 19th, 1999 released beta 0.8 of his mod Sven Co-op, a proof of concept multiplayer modification consisting of a single level of the campaign. Today, 20 years later, Build 3482406 of Sven Co-op is available. That’s exciting, unless, like me, it makes you feel the inevitable march of time and the looming of the grave all the more keenly.

The lovely update squashes a healthy multitude of bugs and rejiggers some of the various checkpoints, along with the campaign from They Hunger. It also adds a glorious thing: varied sounds for NPCs firing the MP5 submachine gun, one of the most grating repeated noises in all of video games history. The patch drops support for Windows XP and Windows Vista, operating systems which weren’t even in development when Half-Life and Sven Co-op were first released.

The mod’s developers suggest going online and booting up svencoop1 with everyone else today. You should probably play dial-up modem screeches in the background while you do it for the full, authentic experience.

Sven Co-op has its own page on Steam. You can read the Sven Co-op team’s full post on their forums

Dota 2

A Dota 2 custom game mode designed by China-based Drodo Studio is taking the Dota 2 world by storm, reaching 100,000 concurrent players earlier today and racking up over 670,000 subscribed users. Dota Auto Chess is a strategic, tactically complex mix of board game and Dota custom map. Play is based around drafting hands of heroes, combining them to upgrade them, and then deploying them correctly to win victories over eight other players in a series of one-on-one matches. The game has become wildly popular, with more concurrent players today than, say, Grand Theft Auto 5 or Football Manager 2019. Like Dota 2, Dota Auto Chess is completely free.

Dota Auto Chess is a weird name for it, I’ll grant. That makes sense since it’s cross-cultural, but the game doesn’t really have that much to do with a match of chess other than an 8x8 board. In truth, it inherits more from tactical board games like Neuroshima Hex or Warcraft 3 mods like Legion TD and Hero Line Wars.

Each round of the game you’re drafted a random hand of heroes you can buy using gold you’ve accumulated. Those heroes are then deployed to the grid and fight automated battles against each other. If you buy three of a specific hero, like Axe the Orc Warrior, you can combine them into a more powerful version of that hero. If you own three of a hero type, you get a bonus to that hero type—three warriors nets you +8 armor, for example. Each hero also has a race, with three of a race getting a bonus—so three Orcs nets you +250 health for all Orcs.

Did I mention that the draft is timed? It’s timed. You have 30 seconds to buy and combine, and you need to watch what enemies are drafting because there are only 20 of each hero available in the whole game. If others pull and buy the pieces of your combo from the pool before you then you're out of luck.

See where this gets complex?  You’re simultaneously trying to beat enemies as cheaply as possible to save gold for later rounds while you build up combos and counter-combo what your enemies are doing. Got enemies with lots of stuns? Well, maybe you should aim for some Nagas and get stun resistance.

It’s a fascinating game, and rounds play so quickly that you can’t help but keep playing more of the game’s mini-tournaments. You don’t have to be great at Dota 2 to win, because the game automatically fights for you using the heroes you’ve deployed. Lose once from a bad hand? Well, just jump into another match and go for it again. Fights against neutral creeps break up the fights with players and net you bonus gold, so the pressure isn’t always completely on.

Here’s a bit of an explainer from Team Secret Operations Director Matthew Bailey: 

You can find Dota Auto Chess here on Steam, or in-game in Dota 2's workshop.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive had one of its best ever months after going free to play, and a record number of VAC bans were doled out on Steam as a consequence. Over 600,000 accounts received VAC bans in December, with the first wave of bans happening days after CS:GO shed its price. 

Spotted by Nors3 on Twitter, five waves crushed naughty players throughout the month. Hundreds of games use Valve’s anti-cheat system, which ostensibly (if not always in reality) detects cheats and automatically bans the account in question from playing on VAC protected servers, but after CS:GO went free to play, the number of bans sky-rocketed. 

In November, only 103,743 accounts were banned, according to SteamDB. That’s around six times fewer than December, and it was a pretty standard month. The number of bans in a month has never broken 200,000 in 15 years, so it’s a significant leap to get past 600,000.

The move to free to play and the addition of a battle royale mode drew the ire of some existing players, who then review-bombed the game. Things have settled down since the initial reaction, however, with recent positive reviews outweighing the negative ones. 

Cheers, PCGamesN.

Half-Life

Half-Payne is, as the name suggests, a mash-up of two classic PC shooters: Half-Life and Max Payne. Basically, it gives Gordon Freeman the same skills that Max has, including bullet time, a dive move, and painkiller healing. Creator suXin has now released what they call its "last major update", which adds a random mod feature, Twitch integration, and a new nightmare dream sequence.

If you turn random mods on, you'll periodically activate one of the many tweaks that suXin has added during development. For example, you might be granted infinite ammo—and then, when that wears off, you might get a wobbly camera that makes aiming hard, followed by a modification that pushes you back every time you take damage. It means that no two play sessions will be the same.

One of those random mods is the rather disturbing 'Payned', added in this update. It transforms all enemies and NPCs into Max Payne, but doesn't alter their body shape or head size, which leads to some twisted character models. Barnacles (the tongue things), just become Max's glorious face. You can see it in action in the trailer, above. 

Twitch integration revolves around those random mods: you can let viewers mess with you by voting on the next modification, which sounds like fun.

The new nightmare sequence is another tribute to Max Payne, adding a dream sequence into the Apprehension section of Half-Life. The update also adds a Gungame mode that forces you to use random weapons.

The whole thing is a great excuse to play Half-Life all over again, and both bullet time and Max Payne's trademark dives look like they transfer surprisingly well to Valve's shooter. You can download the mod from its ModDB page

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, having opened the floodgates by shedding its price and introducing a battle royale mode at the end of last year, has seen quite the bump in players.  

On Twitter, CS:GO sleuth Nors3 reports that 20,535,709 unique players duked it out in December, twice the number of players the game boasted in the previous month. Popping over to SteamCharts and SteamDB we can see the average and peak player numbers. On December 7, CS:GO shed its initial price and added the Danger Zone battle royale mode, causing a significant spike on the graphs. 

SteamCharts recorded an average player count of 395,509 during December with a peak of 746,548. November had 310,085 and 546,031. This does not, however, beat its record for concurrent players, which is over 850,000. Certainly, though, it’s a big increase over the rest of the year, where CS:GO frequently averaged less than 300,000 concurrent players. 

A lot of people might be playing CS:GO right now, but they certainly weren’t happy when Valve announced the changes. CS:GO received 14,000 negative Steam reviews in a single day after going free-to-play, and they kept rolling in. Many players were frustrated because they’d already invested money into the game, and the gift of a loyalty badge didn’t make them much happier. 

7,000 positive reviews were also written, however, so there were plenty of optimistic players, too. It’s also worth noting that after the dust settled, around a week after going free-to-play, the new positive reviews started outweighing the new negative reviews again.  

In the short term, it seems to have worked out, but a single month isn’t much to go on. Did any of you lot take CS:GO for a spin because it went free-to-play? Let us know if you’re going to be sticking around in the comments. 

Cheers, PCGamesN

Half-Life 2

A wide-ranging Half-Life 2 mod called MMod, which has been in the works for nine years, is out now, and it reworks Valve shooter's visuals, gunplay and enemy AI.

Combat is the focus, and the mod adds new weapons, changes weapon handling, and introduces new animations. I'm a big fan of the new idle weapon animations that you can see in the trailer above: when stood still, Gordon Freeman will wipe the scope of his crossbow to clean smudges, or lovingly stroke his trusty rocket launcher.

As for new weapons, the video above shows that you can grab a turret and haul it around, spraying down enemies. You'll also be able to aim down sights on some weapons, such as the basic pistol. 

The mod redesigns both the audio and visual effects, and tweaks the graphics in general. It certainly looks prettier than what I remember of the original—I like the new glowy eyes for the Combine soldiers—and particle effects are far flashier. 

MMod also "hardens" the AI and gives the Combine new actions to perform, such as firing underslung grenade launchers. 

It's already garnering praise over on its ModDB page, where you can download it. Make sure you have a clean install of Half-Life 2 and both Episodes 1 and 2, as well as the free community-made Half-Life 2: update, which the mod runs off. 

Thanks, Dark Side of Gaming.

Portal

Speedrunner Can't Even has smashed their own Portal world record, completing Valve's puzzler in a mere 7:07.

It's an out-of-bounds run, which means they're constantly glitching through walls and empty space. I like that, occasionally, you'll catch a glimpse of part of the game you recognise, and then suddenly it's gone, and you're somewhere else entirely. The level of precision is properly impressive.

Can't Even reckons they can shave two seconds off the run, but it still easily beats their own previous world record of 7:12. The leaderboard at speedrun.com hasn't been updated yet, but you can see that Can't Even is well ahead of the competition—the next best runner is now a full 14 seconds slower.

They're also in the top 25 for in-bounds runs, which take roughly three-and-a-half minutes longer.

If you're a speedrunning fan, don't forget to mark January 6, a week today, in your calendar—it's the start of the annual Awesome Games Done Quick event. The schedule is live here.

Thanks, Kotaku.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Valve just announced Danger Zone, "a fast-paced battle royale game mode built on CS:GO's tactical gameplay where players use their wits, skill, and resources to fight to the finish." Additionally, CS:GO itself is now free to play.

The mode accommodates 16 players in singles, and 18 players in duos or triples. Danger Zone features the same weapon behavior and damage as conventional CS:GO, Valve says. Like CS:GO, the matches are short, lasting about 10 minutes. It makes many other changes to CS:GO's systems:

  • Each player carries an upgradeable special tablet device (on Tab) for tracking other players and accessing a limited buy menu
  • You start with just a knife—aerial delivery drones ferry purchased weapons and equipment directly to your position
  • Each player publicly claims a landing zone before rappelling into the match
  • Cash can be found in the environment and you can also bring hostages to rescue zones
  • There's currently one map, called Blacksite - it's small by Battle Royale standards, but big for Counter-Strike 
  • The map is divided into hexagonal zones, which are randomly, occasionally bombarded by an airstrike
  • Ammo is scarce: even purchased weapons are handed to you with almost no ammo in them
  • Your weapon skins from the base game are carried into Danger Zone

From the round I've played so far, it's weird to see a bunch of old weapons and new ideas thrown together into the same pot. Some of the engagement ranges on the single map, Blacksite, are absolutely enormous by CS standards. Grabbing wads off cash off of the ground (or in locked safes that you have to destroy with C4) feels out of place so far. CS:GO does have its exclusively first-person perspective going for it, at least.

Meanwhile, in all modes of CS:GO, players will now be separated into two matchmaking groups: Prime and non-prime. If you already owned CS:GO, you're a Prime player. "When you have Prime Status you are matched with other players who also have Prime Status, and Prime users are eligible for Prime-exclusive souvenir items, item drops, and weapon cases." Danger Zone arrives, of course, with 17 new seasonal weapon skins.

CS:GO going free-to-play signifies, in part, that Valve is confident in the game's current anticheat solution, delivered through a Valve-built machine learning system called VACnet. As far as I can tell, any banned CS:GO player could join the game through a new Steam account, but would not be matched with other Prime players. It's unclear how CS:GO matchmakes mixed parties of Prime and free players.

Dota 2

The next Dota 2 major in Chonqing, China might be cancelled by the city's government if Carlo “Kuku” Palad—one of the pro players that Valve condemned last month for using racist insults against Chinese teams—tries to attend, according to Kuku's team TNC Predator.

The Filipino player made the racist taunt in a pub game last month, and TNC Predator announced they would dock half of his winnings from the recent Kuala Lumpur Major, where the team won $60,000 by placing joint 5th, as well as half of his winnings from the upcoming Chongqing Major. The money will be donated to an anti-racism charity (h/t Fox Sports Asia).

However, rumours swirled last week that both Kuku and Andrei "skem" Ong, the other player who used racist taunts, would be banned from competing in the Chongqing Major, which will take place in January. According to TNC Predator, that is not true—in a series of tweets today, the team said Kuku was not banned, but that they had been told the city's government might cancel the tournament if Kuku attends. 

As you can see in the tweets below, TNC Predator claimed tournament organisers also said they could not "guarantee [Kuku's] safety" should he attend.

The team said they were "yet to decide whether we will continue playing in the event", and were "exploring all of our options".

Kuku issued an apology last week, in which he said there was "no excuse" for his actions, and that he hoped for a "second chance to show that I can become a better example" (translation via Fox Sports Asia).

As for skem, he's been removed from compLexity Gaming's active Dota 2 roster, so is unlikely to attend the tournament. The team previously issued him a "formal reprimand, as well as a maximum fine".

Neither Valve nor the tournament organisers have issued an official statement on the matter.

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