PC Gamer
Mass Effect 3 Challenge Weekend
The last multiplayer event for Mass Effect 3 asked players to survive all Reaper waves on silver difficulty, kill as many Brutes as possible, and extract to safety. The prize was a victory box full of random goodies and a powerful N7 weapon. The second event, codenamed "RAPTOR," kicks off this weekend. Sadly, it does not involve dinosaurs.

This weekend the entire online Mass Effect 3 community is tasked with promoting as many characters of possible into their single player games. When you hit the level 20 cap with a character in multiplayer you have the option of porting them into your solo campaign as a war asset that will improve your galactic readiness and give you better odds against the Reapers. If the online community does this with 150,000 characters, everyone will get a Victory box filled with randomised goodies.

If you promote two level 20 characters you'll receive an additional Commendation Pack. There's no word on what they'll contain this time. Maybe ... dinosaurs?

The weekend task was announced on the Bioware blog, where they also note that "participants need to set “Upload Gameplay Feedback” to “on” in the online options to be able to participate in Operation RAPTOR." The event starts at 5pm PST tomorrow, and will run until 5am PST Monday. Time to get levelling.
PC Gamer
Guild Wars 2 Asura Thief
If you’ve played an MMO since EverQuest, you’ll be familiar with the idea of the ‘holy trinity’ of healer, tank, and damage classes. It’s an old and tested system, and one that is popular because it allows people to shine in particular roles. Players known to be reliable healers or tanks are worth their weight in gold to guilds looking to take on the hardest bosses.

Guild Wars 2 rejects the trinity outright, opting instead for a system where every class can fill every role - they just do it differently, and the emphasis is on responding to changing circumstances rather than locking down a particular plan in advance. While at ArenaNet last week I asked game designers Ben Miller and Jon Peters whether ditching the trinity threatened a player’s sense of identity.

“I'm the anti-healer person” Peters told me. “I don't hate that people like to play support roles, it's just that I want that role to be fun. I don't think there's any teamwork - what there is is just dependency.”

He drew parallels between the trinity and the way a game studio operates. “If we worked that way, we would never make a game that I enjoyed playing. I would just say ‘make me my effects’, and would say "ok, here's what you've got."

“We build on it, that's what that teamwork is about, and that's the same thing the Guild Wars 2 combat is about, right? It's about organic teamwork and building stuff together.”
Using football as a comparison, Peters emphasised the problem with overly strict rules. “What if only forwards could score. If there’s a shot and the goalkeeper doesn’t stop it, it has to go in - the defenders can’t kick it out. If you put in rules like that it’d be the most absurd game.”
It’s clearly a topic that the design team are passionate about. “I just detest dependency and the lack of teamwork it creates,” Peters continued. “It seems awfully silly to get people to play together and then not have them interact other than to say ‘are you doing your job?’, ‘Yes, I'm doing it.’”

The key to redesigning MMO classes, Peters argues, is looking outside the genre - at shooters. “No-one would tell you that everyone in Team Fortress just does damage,” he says. “No-one would say a Spy and a Heavy are the same because they both do damage - they're very different playstyles. They have a very good sense of purpose.”

In Guild Wars 2, what a character contributes to a party is based on their choice of weapons and abilities as well as the skill level of the player. “I'm going to be a rifle turret engineer" Peters explains, "and my sense of purpose is that I take capture points and I hold them. In dungeons I'm the guy who says, ‘fall back to me when we're in trouble, and I'll blow my turrets up and we'll scatter.'" You develop that sense with a playstyle rather than with a role."
PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2 bonus hats
Revenge! Charity! Stamps! These will be the dominant market forces in Team Fortress 2's economy of death over the next week or so. A post written in the guise of TF2's announcer on the TF2 blog announces that three "absolutely unique one-of-a-kind hats" have been added to TF2. They won't go on sale in the Mann Co store, though. One of each will be awarded every day to the player that gives the most gifts, wins the most duels, and buys the most map stamps during that 24 hour period.

Tying rewards to map stamps is quite a nice move. Each stamp corresponds to a community made arena and all proceeds from stamp sales go to that map's creator. The investment needed to take the duelling hat is harder to justify. You need to buy an item to initiate duels in TF2. The cheaper way is to incite others to duel you and then win, sidestepping the item cost and earning an additional tick towards hat victory. The hat earned for giving gifts could prompt some players to clear out old items they've been hoarding in their backpacks, which will hopefully result in lots of apparently random acts of generosity.

"LET ME GIVE YOU FREE STUFF!" "GIVE ME FREE STUFF!" and "DUEL ME YOU COWARDS!" may become standard battle cries in the TF2 in the days to come. As the madness unfolds, you'll be able to track stats like headshots and gib shots using Strange Parts, which can now be found in crates. These can by used with Strange Weapons to keep track of your actions. "Strange Parts are still a work in progress," says the blog. "So if the mood takes you, visit the TF2 forum and let him know what you're interested in tracking."
PC Gamer
Battlefield 3
The huge 1.5GB Battlefield 3 PC patch has arrived, bringing tons of balance changes, bug fixes and new, paid-for "shortcut boxes." These will let players pay to get hold of unlocks like weapons, attachments and vehicle add-ons without having to level up.

According to the Battlefield blog, the bundles are supposed to be available on Origin now, though they don't seem to on there yet here in the UK. When the collection does go live, it'll include a Kit Shortcut bundle that "immediately unlocks all items unique to the four playable classes," a Vehicle Shortcut Bundle that unlocks all items for all vehicles, and the "Ultimate Bundle" which unlocks "all items from all other available shortcut packs," which is basically everything.

Each class kit can be unlocked separately, as well. The Battlefield site has a rundown of the prices for each kit. A class kit costs £5.49 / $6.99, the Ultimate bundle costs £31.99 / $39.99, eight pounds less than the full game.

There's plenty of good stuff in the patch notes, including improved minimaps, cleaner vaulting, faster movement from prone to standing, vehicle horns and dozens and dozens of tweaks to weapon balance, but it's overshadowed somewhat by these shortcut kits, which will be infuriating to players who have put in the many hours needed to unlock that gear.

Of course, new players who haven't played many games won't have a clue how to use some of Battlefield 3's more complex gadgets, so these microtransactions probably won't upset the balance of the game too much. But still, grrrr. What do you think?
PC Gamer

PC Gamer
Prime World's warring factions are much like the symbol for yin and yang. Though they fight for different causes, they share quite a bit in common—especially when it comes to heroes. Not every hero is a unique snowflake like the Artiste or the Inventor; some have two distinct forms, with identical abilities but contrasting personalities and origins. Today, we'll be taking a look at five heroes with two separate incarnations each: one for the steampunk, forward-thinking Imperium, and another on the side of the nature-loving, holistic Keepers. Woah—these colors are blowing my mind, man!

Mountain Man / Quarrier
Who's got two giant fists and likes to smash people's faces in with them? This guy. As a tank with some decent damage skills, it's up to the Mountain Man to throw his weight around and put the hurt on anyone who's picking on his more-fragile teammates. Even walking around can contribute—his Giant Stomp slows enemies with each ground-quaking step, letting him get in close to nail a Shockwave that'll spike enemies into the air from the feet up. If things are getting crazy, he can use his Landslide to stun and knock back nearby enemies, or use Stone Man like a turtle retracting into his shell, becoming invincible at the cost of not being able to move. Stone Man will also create Native Terrain around the Mountain Man's location, which greatly buffs abilities for himself and other heroes.

Archer / Amazon
It's official: every MOBA needs a high-dps lady-archer who's accessible to newbies and deadly in the hands of a pro. The Archer's first step towards battlefield domination starts with New Position, letting her dash quickly to the perfect vantage point in a fight. This is where she can rain down a Flurry of Blows, firing a volley of arrows that deal crippling magic and physical damage. And runners will have nowhere to hide: her ultimate Decisive Shot automatically targets whichever hero has the lowest health in a huge radius, then snipes them with a weakling-seeking arrow. Makes me think of the last pitiful kid running for his life in that snowball scene from Elf.

Fire Fox / Flame Tail
Much to our dismay, this foxy caster is not sponsored by or affiliated with Mozilla. This caster can regen her health simply by casting spells, thanks to her Soul Harmony passive, while she deals bonus damage if she's learned Playing with Fire. Wind and Sparks is her go-to nuke spell, hurling an ember-filled gust at her target. You can slip out of trouble with the misdirection of Fox Trick, leaving a decoy in the fight while you sneak away unseen. Her magic damage DPS kit is rounded out by Flame-tailed, where she'll launch fiery orbs into the air that burn off target's heads like mortar shots.

Pied Piper / Rat Master
Josh loves this rodent-herding weirdo, and I think I'm starting to understand why. Using his enchanted flute, the Pied Piper commands rats to do his bidding—which usually involves swarming the enemy's vulnerable feet to a thousand small bites with Rat Eruption, or stealing Prime from other heroes with the conniving Rat Rogues, who'll seek out enemies and make their pockets a bit lighter. He can also amass his minion forces with the Call of the Flute, which will hypnotize soldiers (and even heroes, however briefly) to be his unwilling servants. I guess MOBA heroes don't listen to much music, because the Piper's ultimate, Charming Melody, stuns everyone within earshot before automatically enslaving enemy soldiers.

Lightning Master / Storm Thrower
Hey look, it's that hoverboard dude from Quake 3 Arena! Like any lightbringer worth his voltage, the Lightning Master can zap targets with a pulsating Lightning Bolt, or line up a multikill with the room-clearing powers of Chain Lightning. Enemies wearing non-conductive rubber? No problem—just hurl your skull-shattering Thunder Hammer at their heads, then laugh as they stand there, dazed or stunned. Opponents will think twice before pursuing the Lightning Master, thanks to Overload, which leaves an electrical trail behind him as he runs away. And Rage of the Skies takes a page from Zeus' book, striking every enemy hero on the map with a bolt of body-charring electricity. That'll teach 'em to play out in the rain.

The "two heroes, same skill set" angle can be a bit confusing at first, but it's awesome to see a different aesthetic on opposing heroes, even if they play exactly the same. Nival will be continuing to roll out new heroes on the Prime World website; check back here to see what we think of them.
PC Gamer

PC Gamer
Speaking to Joystiq, SimCity Lead designer Stone Librande has revealed that the new SimCity will be an "internet-dependent experience." You'll need to stay connected to the net through Origin if you want to keep playing. He cited SimCity's multiplayer features, like the global economy that will let players sell excess resources on a massive connected market, as the reason for the always-online requirement.

Though SimCity will maintain its connection through Origin, we won't have to buy it through EA's digital store. SimCity will be available to buy through other digital distributors, and at retail, but that's small comfort for those with unreliable internet connections. As we've seen with Ubisoft, you can have the most stable connection in the world and still be at the whim to server switches and meltdowns at the developer/publisher end.
PC Gamer
Battlefield 3 thumb
A tweet from DICE community manager Daniel Matros says that we'll be getting the humongous Battlefield 3 patch tomorrow. "Coming in hot we will go into maintenance mode from 9-11:30 CET," he says. The comprehensive update will affect almost every aspect of the game, from weapon balance to UI bits like the minimap, it'll even add an improved command rose with extra contextual options to help players communicate more efficiently when driving vehicles.

The patch will also fix a ton of bugs, hopefully removing some of the niggling problems that we've been putting up with since Battlefield 3 was released back in October.

Matros says that there are "more details coming on the blog," which will hopefully have news on whether the PC will get the unlock packs that were added to the PS3 edition yesterday. These shortcut packs can be bought to unlock guns and gadgets for each infantry class and vehicles, saving the large amounts of time it'd take to unlock them through Battlefield 3's levelling system.

We learned recently that the massive patch could have been delivered in increments earlier on PC if it wasn't for the lengthy certification process patches need to go through to get onto consoles. It's been a bit of a wait, but it's finally almost here. Given the number of tweaks, BF3 should feel quite different once it's landed.
PC Gamer
It's not a PC game as such, but it does involve your PC and there's an element of competition, here's something to occupy a few hours of free time between now and the end of May. Take those sharp powers of observation and image analysis you've honed through play and put them to some sort of productive use.

Join the hunt for Hubble's Hidden Treasures. You can help to find new galactic objects, make some of those of colourful 'artists impressions' pictures of nebula that grace box art and maybe win an iPad too. Not bad for what is, to all intents and appearances, a browser based game. It'll help kill time until the next Mass Effect 3 DLC comes out.

The problem facing NASA and ESA, who jointly run the Hubble program, is that the telescope has taken literally millions of shots over 22 years in orbit. As a result, only a relative handful have actually been scrutinised by scientists. A couple of years ago, Hubble teamed up with the crowdsourced extra-terrestrial identification project Galaxy Zoo to put some of the unseen pictures up in front of human eyes. The problem that remains that not all of the radiowave snapshots have been processed into visual images.

With its latest initiative, the organisation is encouraging hobbiest astronomers to access its raw data and use professional tools to process it into useful pictures. It's upping the incentive to do so by offering an iPad to the person who finds and creates the most illuminating image.

There's two competitions running concurrently. The more straightforward one is for those with more limited astronomical knowledge and photo editing powers. All you have to do is enter the Hubble Legacy Archive, find a dataset and use a simple online picture editor to turn it into a 'photograph' like the ones you see on the cover of science books about space. Post the result to Hubble's Flickr group, and you can win an iPod Touch.

The second competition is a bit more challenging, and involves downloading the same data as a FITS file and then using a photo editing package like PhotoShop or Gimp to turn it into one of those cover shots. The best will be shown off on spacetelescope.org, and the very best will win an iPad.

Neither option is quite as newbie friendly as Galaxy Zoo though, and if you're fresh to astronomy there's a chance you'll probably fail at the point where the system requires you to know what object it is you're looking for before you look for it - although fond memories of Elite might help here. Give it a go - if nothing else, it's still a small insight into the more mundane parts of the lives of rock star scientists Dr Brian Cox or Brian May.