Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

An update to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive that makes a significant change to trading dropped last week in an attempt to minimise scams and fraud. Since then, a petition demanding a reversal of the changes has amassed over 100,000 signatures. 

While trading is used by all kinds of players, whether for profit or because they just really want a pretty gun, outside of the CS:GO community we typically hear about the worst elements, like automated Steam accounts or influential YouTubers endorsing gambling sites without disclosing their involvement.

“Steam trading was created to allow customers to easily exchange items with each other, and each day we see thousands of customers using Steam Trading in this way,” reads Valve’s blog post on the change. “Recently we’ve been looking into ways to reduce some negative unintended uses of trading in CS:GO (such as fraud and scams), with the goal of preserving trade between players.”

The change comes in the form of a seven-day cooldown. Trading on the Steam Community Market already comes with this cooldown, but now it will affect trades between individuals as well. Valve thinks that this will mainly prove to be an obstacle for these automated Steam accounts that mimic players, as “a given item moves between actual players no more than once a week in the vast majority of cases.”

Judging by the reaction to the update, quite a few players disagree. 

“Our whole community would like the trading rules to be completely reverted to what it was before the most previous CS:GO update on the CS:GO blog,” writes the individual who set up the petition. While one random player can’t claim to represent a whole community, the petition is still sitting at 115,376 at the time of writing. The update, according to the petition, “destroys trading interactions”. 

The tweaks to trading are still subject to change, however. “[W]e realize today’s change may also be disruptive to some players,” writes Valve. “We’ll continue to evaluate trading policies as time goes on.”

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Valve tinkered with Counter Strike: Global Offensive's trading rules this week, and sections of the community are ticked off about it. Under the new rules, added in an update, any items you receive through trading will have a seven-day trading cool down, which stops you moving them on to another user quickly. 

The aim is to stop automated Steam accounts from trading items very frequently through third-party services, Valve said in a blog post. "Unfortunately, some of these third-party services have become a vector for fraud or scams. Unlike players, these services rely on the ability to trade each item very frequently. In contrast, a given item moves between actual players no more than once a week in the vast majority of cases," it said.

It acknowledged that the change would be "disruptive to some players", and the response of the community suggests it was right. A petition that says the rule change "destroys trading interactions as a whole", and that it should be scrapped, has amassed more than 90,000 signatures. The change has serious implications for CS:GO skin gambling, as well as for players that just want to do a lot of trading.

Prominent traders and pro players have also spoke out against the update, including Astralis AWPer Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz. He said on Twitter that the update would do nothing to stop scamming. "The only winner of this update is Valve and the money the market will generate from this."

What do you think of the change?

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Look familiar?

Far Cry Arcade's map-making tools have already been put to good use. Mythic Counter-Strike map de_dust2 now exists in Far Cry Arcade's competitive multiplayer map pool, an impressive recreation by user Izoolee. Have a look for yourself in the video below, in which YouTuber Widdz plays a match on the custom map. You can see him look for the usual sightlines and, impressively, most of them are there. 

While you can't play the usual bomb-defusing objective mode, team deathmatch with Far Cry's showy arsenal turns de_dust2 into a much more lighthearted romp. Still, scream 'Rush B!' to your heart's content. Dust 2 just isn't the same without it.

If you're away from your PC and want to try the map for yourself later, you can save it to play for later from any web browser. Just head to the de_dust2 level page, log in, and hit the' Favorite' icon. 

Counter-Strike

All popular multiplayer games fight never-ending battles against cheaters. But as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive rose in 2014 to become the most-played FPS in the world, a few things made it particularly susceptible to hacking. 

As the 10th game released on Source (and the third mainline CS), there were already piles of knowledge on how to tamper with Valve's engine. Hacks built for ancient stuff like Half-Life 2: Deathmatch could, with a few minutes' tweaking, perhaps function in CS:GO (although Valve says they'd be trivial to detect). Design-wise, the traits that make CS:GO a skillful game of angles and accuracy also make cheats more effective. Weapons are highly lethal, so putting those guns in the hands of aimbots makes them even more devastating. And CS:GO's focus on information and stealth means that knowing the location of your opponent is invaluable—fertile ground for wallhacks.

CS:GO's fight against hackers is "important, valuable work" according to Valve, but if you've played the FPS, you may have noticed a couple years ago that things were beginning to get dramatically better. Not only did Reddit complaints and frustrated replay clips of cheaters seem to circulate less frequently, but the perception of cheating—as hazardous as anything to a competitive game's health—seemed to dissipate. We published stories of high-profile bans, along with news of thousands of cheaters getting banned in single waves. How was Valve purging most of these jerks?

"Cheaters didn't get the memo we were doing it, and players were super happy and we were just busting cheaters left and right. It felt so good."

John McDonald, Valve

In one of the only in-depth moments of transparency on this topic, Valve programmer John McDonald spoke at the Game Developers Conference last week in San Francisco about how he and Valve used deep learning techniques to address CS:GO's cheating problem. This approach has been so effective that Valve is now using deep learning on "a bunch of problems," from anti-fraud to aspects of Dota 2, and Valve is actively looking for other studios to work with on implementing their deep learning anti-cheat solution in other games on Steam.

Solving CS:GO's cheating problem

While between projects sometime in 2016, McDonald noticed that "The only thing the community was talking about was cheating," based on online discussion and a private email address that received mail from CS:GO pros. "It was this, just, deafening conversation," he says. The uptick in VAC bans around this period, McDonald says, supported what Valve was hearing.

To combat the issue, Valve and McDonald looked to deep learning, a solution that had the potential to operate and adapt over time to new cheating techniques—attractive traits to Valve, which has historically elected to automate aspects of Steam rather than hire hundreds of new employees to tackle issues like curation. What Valve created is known as VACnet, a project that represents about a year of work. 

VACnet works alongside Overwatch, CS:GO's player-operated replay tool for evaluating players who have been reported for bad behavior. VACnet isn't a new form of VAC, the client and server-side tech that Valve's used for years to identify, say, when someone's running a malicious program alongside a game. VACnet is a new, additional system that uses deep learning to analyze players' in-game behavior, learn what cheats look like, and then spot and ban hackers based on a dynamic criteria.

"Our customers are seeing fewer cheaters today than they have been, and the conversation around cheating has died down tremendously."

John McDonald, Valve

McDonald says that "subtle" cheats remain difficult to solve, but in building VACnet, Valve decided to target aimbots first because they present themselves at specific, easily-definable points during rounds of CS:GO: when you're shooting. This allowed Valve to build a system that captured the changes in pitch (Y-axis) and yaw (X-axis)—degree measurements in a player's perspective—a half a second before a shot, and a quarter second after. This data, along with other pieces of information like what weapon the player is using, their distance, the result of the shot (hit, miss, headshot?) are the individual 'data particles' that together form what Valve calls "atoms," essentially a data package that describes each shot. 

VACnet can't necessarily spot a cheater based on one atom, though. "We need a sequence of them, what we actually want is 140 of them, or at least that's what the model uses right now … We just take the 140 out of an eight round window and we stuff those into the model, and we're like, 'Hey, if you were to present this sequence of 140 shots to a [human] juror, what is the likelihood you would get a conviction?'"

Pretty good, as it turns out. Both players and VACnet report players for judgment in Overwatch. But when VACnet reports a suspected cheater, they're almost always a cheater.

"When a human submits a case to Overwatch, the likelihood that they get a conviction is only 15-30 percent, and that varies on a bunch of factors, like the time of the year, is the game on sale, is it spring break. There's a bunch of things but the point is human convictions are very low," says McDonald. "VACnet convictions are very high, when VACnet submits a case it convicts 80 to 95 percent of the time." 

A slide from McDonald's talk: a model of the relationship between Overwatch and VACnet.

That doesn't mean Valve plans to phase out its cheater theater, Overwatch. Both systems work together: VACnet learns detection techniques from Overwatch, McDonald says. "Because we're using Overwatch and we didn't actually replace all player reports, we just supplemented them, that means that the learner [VACnet] is getting the opportunity to evolve along with human jurors. So as human jurors identify new cheating behaviour, the learner has the opportunity to do the same thing."

McDonald adds that when VACnet has been recently retrained with player data to spot a new cheat, the conviction rate might be nearly 100 percent for a short period before cheaters adapt to it. When Valve quietly rolled out VACnet to CS:GO's 2v2 competitive mode earlier this month, McDonald says "the conviction rate for that mode was 99 percent for a while, it was great. Cheaters didn't get the memo we were doing it, and players were super happy and we were just busting cheaters left and right. It felt so good."

Large Hacker Collider

To bring VACnet to life, a server farm had to be built that could handle CS:GO's millions of players, loads of data, and grow as CS:GO grew. Right now there are about 600,000 5v5 CS:GO matches per day, and to evaluate all players in those matches Valve needed about four minutes of computation, amounting to 2.4 million minutes of CPU effort per day. You need about 1,700 CPUs to do that daily work.

So Valve bought 1,700 CPUs. And 1,700 more, "so we'll have room to expand," McDonald says, hinting at Valve's intention to bring VACnet to other games. Conservatively, Valve had to have spent at least a few million dollars on that hardware: 64 server blades with 54 CPU cores each and 128GB of RAM per blade. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $120M CS:GO brought in off of game copy sales alone in 2017, but it probably represents one of the beefiest anti-cheating farms built for a single game. 

The work continues, but from McDonald's perspective, VACnet is kicking ass, and has potential application not only in non-Valve games, but in other stuff on Steam. "Deep learning is this sea-change technology for evolutionary behaviour," says McDonald. "We think that it is really helping us get developers off of the treadmill without impacting our customers in any way. Our customers are seeing fewer cheaters today than they have been, and the conversation around cheating has died down tremendously compared to where it was before we started this work."

Early December 2017 brought a new milestone for the system: VACnet started producing more convictions than non-convictions in Overwatch. "The system works great," says McDonald.

Dota 2

The irritating thing about Sea of Thieves living just on the Windows Store—aside from the process of using the store itself—is that you're bound by the game's price on there. You can't buy Rare's co-op pirate game through Steam or other third-party retailers. In the UK, that means the PC version is a relatively steep £50, more than most major publisher games are priced on Steam. This led to a recent conversation among the PC Gamer staff: how much are you willing to spend on a game? How much have you spent on games in the past? We had wildly different answers, based on our gaming preferences and, er, unhealthy addictions.

In this week's PCG Q&A, it's confession time: what's the most you've ever spent on a game? Let us know your answers in the comments. 

Philippa Warr: £522+

I have spent £522 on Dota 2. Well, sort of. That's the amount the game client has recorded, but it doesn't take into account money spent attending events or on things outside the client. Further complicating the matter is the fact that it doesn't take into account stuff like rare item drops which I sold on the Steam Marketplace and thus which added credit to my account. I'm not sure where gifts to and from friends would factor in either. 

Dota was also significant to my work in that the industry had a lack of regular staff writers who understood Dota when I was playing it a lot and thus this total doesn't factor in payment for writing about a game I had deep knowledge of, or an esports scene I was immersed in. This isn't about justification, it's about how odd it feels seeing a figure next to my account and realising I have no idea what it actually means in terms of what I spent and what I got out of that game. Besides, as a millennial, I guess if I hadn't bought digital hats I'd have only frittered it away on avocados and flat whites.

Tim Clark: £965. You know which game.

I'm afraid my answer is Hearthstone, again, and it's not even close. I really didn't want to do this, but I just trawled my Blizzard order history and in the years since I've been playing (it looks like I began in February 2014) I've spent [deep breath] £965. Before checking, I assumed the amount was close to a thousand, but seeing all the transactions written down, I still feel slightly shocked. That's £241 per year on a supposedly free to play game. Why, you absolute idiot, you no doubt wonder. Well, I guess the uncomfortable answer is because I can just about afford it—I have a steady job and don't have kids—and because ultimately I want to. 

For the most part Hearthstone has been something I've enjoyed spending time with on a daily basis. Of course off the back of a big losing streak I hate myself and want to die, but that's card games baby. I also fully concede (I also do that often) that if I were coming to the game now I would find the idea of trying to build a competitive collection incredibly intimidating. But I guess I'm okay with keeping my existing one up to speed so that I can play whatever meta deck I fancy. Ultimately I view it as less buying a single game and more investing in my hobby, like I might with fly fishing, or drone flying, or other outdoor things I'm absolutely not going to do. 

It's... it's a sickness, isn't it?

Samuel Roberts: about £80

I don't play MMOs or free-to-play games, but I'm generally down for buying DLC packs for singleplayer games I like. This usually means I can end up spending double the amount of the game on these expansions—BioWare and Bethesda RPGs are good examples of this. Hot damn, those DLC packs are crapshoots, though. You never know if you're going to score a Lair of the Shadow Broker or something that expands on a part of the game you don't like (I can't bring myself to play Inquisition's Deep Roads-themed DLC, for example, as I have no intention of ever returning to the Dragon Age universe's underground caves).

This is a level of financial commitment I can live with. The most I've ever spent on microtransactions is £24 worth of Shark Cards for GTA Online, but since I've played that for over 130 hours, I can justify it to myself. I really wanted to fit missiles to my Batmobile. Sometimes joy has a real-world cost. 

Steven Messner: Around $1260

I'm going to split this into a couple of smaller answers because when it comes to spending money on a game, the reason matters. If we're just looking at gross totals, the answer is undoubtedly World of Warcraft, which I have been playing off-and-on since I was about 14. If we do some rough math and say that, in the 14 years since I've been playing I've only maintained a subscription for half of that time (which is super generous), I'd have sunk about $1,260 USD into it. But that means that WoW has also given me seven years of fun and enjoyment, so in hindsight that seems like a pretty good investment. In fact, I don't regret any of the money I've spent on MMOs—and I used to pay two subscriptions to EVE Online so I could play multiple accounts simultaneously.

But when it comes to spending money on microtransactions, you'll find I have a bit of an illness. I can remember multiple 2AM nights where I sat staring bleary-eyed at Hearthstone's storefront doing mental gymnastics to justify why $70 for 60 packs seems like a good idea. I've done similar with Rocket League, CS:GO—the list goes on. Right now, my current obsession is Path of Exile. I've dumped at least a few hundred into cosmetics because what's the point of being a god-slaying badass if you don't look the part? The one thing I'll say in defense of my bad purchasing habits is that these are all games that have returned my initial investment hundreds of times over. I've played Rocket League for 500+ hours, I think I can spend a little extra on some dumb cosmetics and still count my investment as in the black.

Evan Lahti: $512.94

If you would've asked me how many CS:GO keys I've purchased over the modest 1000 hours I've put into the game, I probably would've said 40 or 50—plenty, but from what I remember from my 2014 heyday, most of the stuff I picked up was in trades, skin gambling, or off the Community Market.

Checking my Steam Account History for the first time, it seems that between August 2013 and February 2017 I bought 206 CS:GO weapon case keys at $2.49 per. That's $512.94. Ho-ly shit. Yow. And out of that, I can't even say that I have anything especially valuable. csgobackpack.net seems to think that my CS:GO inventory's worth $545, but that's including a $106 dollar Huntsman Knife that was gifted to me. The best critique I can offer of CS:GO's loot boxes at this stage—if I can be trusted at all at this point—is that I own maybe three or four skins that I truly love.

Joe Donnelly: £99.94, just this year

Besides a nasty obsession with Habbo Hotel furnishings towards the end of 2001—a perfect if costly distraction from studying for high school prelim exams—I've never really invested real money in a videogame. Well, rather, I hadn't really invested real money in a videogame until my recent foray into GTA Online. At the end of January this year, I splashed for the game's Criminal Enterprise Starter Pack for 40 quid. Then I played for a few weeks without spending a penny. And then I bought a couple of Shark Cards for £11.99 a piece. And then I bought one or two more. And having just checked my Steam account transaction history, I now realise I've actually purchased five of the same premium tokens all told. Which means I've spent £99.94 on GTA Online in the last eight or so weeks. Jeeso. 

That's a lot of money, but, in all honesty, I don't regret it. Please spend your own money wisely, folks, but I found the starter pack to be helpful while raising my character's level, and I've had some great fun over the past several weeks revelling in my spread of frivolous office upgrades, cars and cosmetics. 

James Davenport: Got drunk last night and spent $60 on Fortnite

I’ll keep this brief because I’m tired and hungover, but I woke up to an email stating I dropped $60 in Fortnite for a pile of goddamn V-Bucks. I don’t know how it happened. Saw that pot-of-gold pickaxe and must’ve blacked out. I’m OK, I just might need some time away to think. 

Dota 2

It's probably for the best that Hladki has a sense of humour, given the likely comments here.

Blanket statements made about statistics are dangerous. How any set of data is interpreted can lead to wildly different conclusions being drawn, and trust me, things are about to get wild. Yesterday, at the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco, Yauheni Hladki told his audience that: “The result that we’ve come with is that all the esports far surpass traditional sports in terms of skill”. And yes, that raised some eyebrows clean off their foreheads. “Why?” he thankfully went on to ask. The answer: "Because the sample size is huge and tremendous. For every single team, for every single player in esports, they play far more games than professional athletes." 

By the sheer amount of games, the sample size becomes so big that the possibility for randomness almost goes to infinity.

Hladki

It still sounds like an outlandish claim, but in his GDC talk entitled “Why It's So Much Harder to Predict Winners in Esports”, Hladki seemed extremely confident. He’s certainly well-qualified to speak on the subject, having built up plenty of esports experience in his role as the StarSeries commissioner at StarLadder. He’s been involved with running leagues for games across the entire spectrum of esports, from mainstream favourites CS:GO, Dota 2 and Hearthstone to the somewhat less well-known World of Tanks scene. Hladki also boasts an impressive academic background, having studied both theoretical physics and political science, both fields in which you need to know your way around an equation.

Hladki explained that his study was inspired by the work of Michael J. Maboussin, whose book The Success Equation sought to place traditional sports on a continuum between pure luck and skill. According to Hladki, these are the two components which determine the outcome of any competitive game. (If you’re mathematically inclined, F(x) and F(y)). Examining the luck factor first, Hladki notes that some games contain more of it than others. Chess, for example, features a lot less luck than ice hockey, which Hladki says is actually one of the most random professional sports. We should note also that as the sample size gets bigger (read: the number of games played increases) this factor becomes less significant as the luck evens out. Similarly, the extent to which players can demonstrate their skill will vary between games.

Bad news, chess fans. Oh, and in case you're wondering, that equation explains luck vs skill. Easy!

Hladki thinks the larger sample size we see in esports mean that luck is less of a factor. "By the sheer amount of games, the sample size becomes so big that the possibility for randomness almost goes to infinity". I'm a little skeptical at this claim. After all, is the number of games teams play in an esports league really all that different from, say, the number of games in a Premier League football season? It might be fairer to assume that here Hladki is talking about the online ranking systems you’d find in games like League of Legends or Overwatch, where players can grind away at the ladder all day in pursuit of the top ranks. There is no analogue to these in conventional sports. Players do train outside of competition, of course, but they are not formally ranked for doing so.

Perhaps even more controversially, Hladki says that esports are inherently more skillful. "To score one try in American football is very difficult." he says, "Whereas in CS:GO, the guy just comes and sprays. So every single bullet is potentially considered a try." Again, this raises some obvious questions. Perhaps he’s just simplifying things for the sake of clarity, but it’s hardly difficult to conceive of equivalent actions in sports that increase the chance of winning without the scoreboard actually being altered. A defence-splitting through-ball in soccer, for example, or perhaps a dominant first serve in tennis that puts the opponent on the back foot.

RNG is one of the challenges that I think we have to add one more variable for in esports.

Hladki

Along similar lines: why does this have to be true of all esports? Take Hearthstone, for example, a game frequently criticised for its use of random effects. This is a game where a professional player can lose to a rank 25 (the game’s lowest rank) playing a budget deck. Faced with a question about RNG from our Hearthstone-obsessed global editor, Tim Clark, Hladki said this: "The RNG is one of the challenges that I think in an esports game we have to add one more variable than what we’re basing it on right now, which is RNG factor." Which seems a little confusing, as one would assume that’s already accounted for in any model that factors luck in the first place.

With all that said, Hladki’s thesis does still ring true to a certain extent. The idea that esports games have more opportunities to show skill than conventional sports (well, maybe not Hearthstone) does have some degree of truth to it. Think about how many variables there are in a game like Dota 2—hero choices, item builds, team compositions, etc—it’s clear that there are a huge number of decisions to make, and with each of those comes an opportunity for a player to demonstrate skill. The argument Hladki may also be making is that the sheer number of people playing these competitive videogames means that those who reach a level good enough to turn pro must have inherently displayed more skill over their peers than, say, a kid who makes a college football team.

While some of Hladski’s conclusions might seem a little far-fetched, it is important to emphasise that they are all based on data, and he actively encouraged the audience to debunk his work, arguing that what esports needs is more peer-review analysis based on data. And even though his data is not publicly available yet, he promises it will be up on his Linkedin page once he has permission from the relevant game publishers. So we should exercise some caution before tearing down his conclusions. In any case, it’s great to see this kind of research into variance and skill being done for esports. It might take a few more studies before you can convince me that Pavel is more skillful than Messi, though.

All hail Pavel, the RNG king. (And statistically one of Hearthstone's most consistent performers.)

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

OMEN by HP and FACEIT have announced the OMEN UK Open—a new Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament set to run from next month through November, 2018. The UK-exclusive contest promises a total prize pool of $30,000, with $12,500 of that in cash and $17,500 of OMEN by HP hardware. 

Qualifiers kick off on April 15 and are open to teams and solo players alike. The opening stage is split into eight preliminary rounds, followed by a two-month league, and wrapped up by open finals on November 17 and 18. The tourney in its entirety will be broadcast on the OMEN by HP Europe Twitch channel.

Further to the competition itself, OMEN by HP will also run the OMEN UK Open Community Caster Challenge—an initiative that gives talented commentators the chance to win $2,500 worth of OMEN by HP products, and the potential opportunity to cast the OMEN UK Open Final.  

"With the launch of the OMEN UK Open, HP is celebrating the competitive spirit that drives grassroot gamers across Britain," says George Brasher, UK and Ireland MD at HP, in a statement. "We know that enthusiast gamers need the best equipment and competitions to reach their goals and showcase their talent. The OMEN UK Open is a unique opportunity for HP to provide this platform and support the expansive UK CS:GO community—a passionate group of gaming fans at the very heart of esports."

The Omen UK Open qualifiers begin on April 15, and the tournament will conclude with Finals on November 17 and 18, 2018. More information on all of the above can be found here, while those interested in Community Caster Challenge sign ups should head in this direction.

Half-Life

Occult Scrim looks like a fun twist on Half Life: it's not quite a fully top-down shooter, but it's nearly there, with the camera floating way overhead. Your job is to blast through enemies to rack up points, which you'll spend on new weapons and items when you return to your base, an armoury.

It's still very early days for the mod, and it doesn't yet have a release date, but it looks remarkably polished. The perspective works well, and your character—a black ops assassin—automatically adjusts their aim up and down depending on where your enemies are. It looks like it plays far quicker than the base game, with lots of enemies on screen at one time. 

The camera has two positions: you can bring it slightly closer to the action if you want to get extra precise. Even when it's zoomed out, the guns feel meaty and solid. I'm not sure how many of the weapons are new and how many come from the base game, but I'm impressed nonetheless.

Enemy behaviour has been tweaked from the original to make them more challenging to fight, and they'll do things like roll and strafe out of the line of fire. You'll face bosses, too, like the one below. 

Click here for its ModDB page. It's one I'll be keeping an eye on as it comes together.

Half-Life 2

Oh, snap! It's yet another PCG Q&A, where every Saturday we ask the panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. You're also very welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below. This week: which game actually lived up to the hype?

Jody Macgregor: The Witcher 3

I hated the first Witcher game, and although the second one's an improvement in a lot of ways I still thought most of it was dull—apart from the bit where you get drunk and wake up with a tattoo, obviously. So when glowing reviews came out for The Witcher 3 I ignored them. There was plenty of other stuff to play in 2015: Tales From the Borderlands, Rocket League, Life is Strange, Pillars of Eternity, Devil Daggers, Her Story. I was busy.

It took a solid year's worth of articles about how incredible every aspect of The Witcher 3 was, from the side quests to the potion-making to the characters to the wind in the goddamn trees, before I finally caved and tried it. Everyone was right, it's now on my "best games of all time" list, and I've become one of those people who says you should turn the music down so you can hear the wind in Velen. There's an entire subreddit devoted to whinging about games journalism's never-ending love affair with writing about The Witcher 3, but without that constant praise I wouldn't have pushed past my disinterest to give it the chance it deserved. And now I've become one of those people who won't shut up about The Witcher 3.

Samuel Roberts: Metal Gear Solid V

Not everyone will agree with this one, but I've lived through multiple Metal Gear hype cycles (MGS2 and MGS4 most memorably), and this is the one game that really deserved it. While this Metal Gear has the worst story in the series by far, it's also a superior stealth game. With its suite of upgrades and repeatable missions, I easily played MGSV for over 100 hours, and I have no doubt I'll reinstall it someday. 

Chris Livingston: Portal 2

I think the original Portal was a near-perfect experience. You learned to play as you played and each test chamber increased in complexity at a rate that was challenging but never frustrating. It was funny and surprising and satisfying, and short enough that it didn't have time to wear out its welcome. When trailers for Portal 2 began appearing, I was just as excited as anyone else, though I wasn't really expecting to love it in the same way. More complex, more characters, more story, more puzzles, more more more. I just couldn't imagine it matching the original, which proved (to me at least) that less is more.

It definitely lived up to the hype, though. Portal 2 is amazing, funny, challenging, surprising, and every bit as brilliant as the first. Maybe it's still true that less is more, but that doesn't mean more is less.

Jarred Walton: Half-Life 2

Piggybacking off Chris here, Half-Life 2 was an incredible follow-up to one of the best (if not the best) games of the '90s. The original Half-Life surprised the hell out of me with ways it changed the first-person shooter. After playing a ton of Quake and Quake 2, story seemed to be an afterthought, but Half-Life revolutionized the genre. Okay, the Xen levels at the end almost ruined it, but I still wanted more.

And then I waited, waited, and waited some more. Daikatana proved that games too long in development could suck, and HL2 felt like it might be doomed to the same fate. But with the addition of the gravity gun and physics, plus a great setting and story that made you care about the characters, it exceeded its source material in every way. I'm still holding out hope for HL3, naturally, but those are some massive shoes to fill.

Tom Senior: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I was dangerously excited when a new Deus Ex was announced. I was hyped to the extent that it would have really stung if a new Deus Ex fell well short of expectations. Human Revolution had a few problems, but it was exactly the atmospheric cyberpunk playground I wanted and the art direction added a new dimension to the Deus Ex universe. Due to the technological limitations of the era the old Deus Ex games struggled to show art or architecture (apart from that silly Earth-in-a-giant-claw statue at the start). Human Revolution decided that everything would be gold, and full of triangles, and its depiction of futuristic augments was gorgeous. I would quite like a pair of Jensen arms.

Human Revolution really got Deus Ex. It had hacking, vents, and intricate levels. But it also had something else, something new: retractable arm-swords. Not many people would look at the groundbreaking masterpiece of Deus Ex and think 'this needs retractable arm-swords', but Eidos Montreal had the vision to make retractable arm-swords happen. I will always respect them for that. 

Andy Kelly: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

I remember the buzz around Vice City vividly. Every time I saw that stylish advert on TV, the one with 'I Ran' by Flock of Seagulls, I got a tingle of excitement. Magazines were full of gushing previews, treating every morsel of information like it was the biggest scoop since Watergate. And then when it came out, it was everything I dreamed it would be. A bigger, more detailed city. An incredible soundtrack. More fun and varied missions. A better story. An all-star cast. HELICOPTERS. Being able to fly around a city of that size back then was a genuine thrill.

GTA III was great, but it felt like an experiment in places; a concept for what a 3D Grand Theft Auto game could be. But Vice City was the first time Rockstar really nailed it, and laid a solid foundation for the 3D era of their world-conquering series. The '80s (or at least some exaggerated, romanticised version of it) has begun to saturate pop culture to an annoying degree lately, so I can't see Rockstar returning to that setting. It's too obvious. But I would like to see Vice City again in a different, more contemporary era, perhaps showing the bleak, faded aftermath of its hedonistic '80s heyday.

Andy Chalk: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The first time I saw this teaser I made a noise like a ten-year-old opening the latest issue of Tiger Beat. Then I saw this teaser, and I pretty much hyperventilated and passed out. I knew in my heart that DX: Human Revolution couldn't be that good, because Deus Ex was lightning in a bottle: Ugly, clunky, with terrible voice acting and a ridiculous, incoherent story, all of which somehow got smushed together into basically the best game ever made. How do you fall down a flight of stairs and land in a bed of roses twice? 

But then Human Revolution came out, and it was that good. Not perfect, and I will never not be mad about those boss fights. But Adam Jensen is the perfect successor (predecessor, I suppose) to JC Denton, I loved the visual style (including the piss filter) and the music (because it's not Deus Ex without a great soundtrack), and the whole thing just felt right: Not as off-the-conspiracy-theory-hook as the original, but big and sprawling and unpredictable—a legitimate point of entry into that world. It took more than a decade to get from Deus Ex to Human Revolution, and it was worth the wait. 

Dota 2

For the first time ever, the International Dota 2 Championships are coming to the magical land of Canada, the home of hockey, poutine, telephone poles, and other such stereotypical touchstones. Valve announced today that this year's big donnybrook will take place August 20-25 in the Rogers Arena, home of the Vancouver Canucks, in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

Tickets will go on sale at 10 am/1 pm, and 10 pm/1 am, PT on March 23, and will be available in two types: Midweek tickets, which will go for $125 CDN ($96), providing access to the first four days of the event, and Finals tickets, for $250 CDN ($191), granting access to the last two days. If you want to attend for the full stretch, you'll have to spring for both, and no VIP tickets are being offered this year.   

Tickets will be available for purchase via ticketmaster.ca, and Valve recommends that you have your account squared away and be logged in before the selling begins. That pretty much covers it, but if you have questions, the International Ticketing FAQ should be able to help you out.   

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