PC Gamer
Total War Rome 2 preview

Creative Assembly are using the Total War Wiki to roll out info on the factions that will appear in the upcoming Total War: Rome II.

See if you can guess who they've unveiled as Rome II's first faction. No hints. Definitely don't go peeking at the Total War: ROME II faction page. Just take a shot in the dark...

It was Rome! Bet you're kicking yourselves now.

"As a playable faction, Rome benefits economically from its excellence in metalwork, enjoys enhanced military development, and can exploit the masses in order to maintain public order," says the entry on Rome, the first announced faction of Rome II. "Furthermore, the player will choose to conduct the affairs of Rome as the head of one of three great Roman houses: The Julia, The Cornelia, and the Junia, each of which bring further economic, military and cultural benefits."

According to Creative Assembly, "Each faction within the game offers greater richness, depth and variety than any previous Total War title to date, and brings the ancient world to life like never before. The distinctions between cultures aren’t simply cosmetic; each offers a fundamentally different style of play."

The other factions will be slowly announced in the coming weeks, nay, months. But at least we know the name-swapped follow-up to Rome: Total War will feature Rome. That seems like a solid addition.

You know when you see a word so many times that it completely loses all meaning?
PC Gamer

Here's what the week has been missing: giant stompy robot news! Word comes through from Adhesive Games that Hawken, their free-to-play mech FPS, is going into open-beta from next week, letting anyone jump into monstrous metal death-machines packed full of explosive warheads. Hooray for robots!

On December 12th the game will be available to mecha-pilots worldwide (except in China, where it's due to arrive a little later). According to Hawken's lead animator Chris Lalli: “Open beta is our chance to implement all the good feedback we’ve gotten from closed beta players on the forums, and deliver the changes the community wants to see.”

The team plans to roll out new features, balance changes and improvements throughout the beta, and is welcoming player feedback over at the Hawken forums.

You can sign up over at the game's website.

Thanks, PCGamesN.
PC Gamer
End of Nations

Update: Petroglyph have released an official statement explaining the situation. Here it is in full:

"Petroglyph Games Inc., an innovative studio that has created and launched multiple successful games over the years, has concluded its work as developer on End of Nations™ for publisher Trion Worlds. As a result, Petroglyph has reduced its workforce by 19 employees."

"The team at Petroglyph is very excited about End of Nations, a title which earned more than 50 nominations and awards while in development, and looks forward to its upcoming release."

"Additionally, Petroglyph recently moved into a larger facility in Las Vegas to house its current headcount of over 90 employees. Development work continues on multiple projects across different genres and platforms, both internally and externally funded, with releases planned through 2014."

Original: Things aren't looking great for Petroglyph Games, developers of the online RTS End of Nations. Last week the game was indefinitely postponed, after the closed beta identified several areas of the game in need of "polish and improvement." Now, Eurogamer are reporting that they have it on "good authority" that 30 developers have been laid off at the studio.

The claim is backed up by a tweet from End of Nations designer Adam Stevens. "Well, it appears this Winter break will be extended indefinitely," he wrote, adding: "Layoffs at Petroglyph. Looking like I'll be Leaving Las Vegas."

Despite the sharp downward turn in End of Nations' fortune, Lance James, the game's community manager, posted on their forum to assure fans that the project was still alive. "Indeed - just wait and let us deliver a better game! End of Nations has not been cancelled!"

We've contacted Petroglyph for confirmation.
PC Gamer
Path of Exile

Grinding Gear have announced the date for the open beta of their free-to-play Diablo-ish ARPG-cum-MMO, Path of Exile. While the developers had originally targeted a December 2012 date - and actually believe they can have the game ready this month - they've decided to delay until after the new year, when staff will be back from their Christmas break.

You should now be able to get your hands on the game on January 23rd, 2013.

"We want the first few months of Open Beta to set the precedent that we react quickly to feedback on the game and add features/content that players want," writes Path of Exile's lead designer Chris Wilson on the game's forum. "We do not want everyone’s first experience with the game to be that nothing changes for a month. If any unexpected problems arose or the game became very popular in December, the support team wouldn't be at full strength to service the needs of all players."

Path of Exile is an online RPG that touts a "barter-based" economy, PvP, ladder races and character customisation as its design focus. The game has been in closed beta, available to purchasers of a $10 early access pack, since August 2011.

Thanks, Massively.
PC Gamer

AJ Dembroski, a former developer for EA's Madden series of American Football (or Crap Rugby) games, has spoken out against the publisher in a lengthy Twitter rant made over the weekend. The majority of the tweets have now disappeared, as is tradition for unexpected Twitter outbursts, but not before they were rounded up in full by a member of the Operation Sports community.

Dembroski is quick to stress that he has no issue with many of the people he worked with and that, overall, he was happy with the way the company treats their employees. "EA treats their people well. They really do. The EA Wife letter... I dunno, I didn't experience that. Good people there." But he also had a lot to say about EA's "corporate culture," saying "any corporate involvement in a creative business is doomed to fail."

"I think Metrics are the worst things to happen to gaming," Dembroski continued, saying that everything the studio did was broken down into numbers without any creative input. "So a football game wants to reach feature parody with Call of Duty... without the realization that they're different fuckin games ... 'Call of Duty Numbers' is the be-all-end-all of the industry. And genre's other than realistic FPS's suffer."

Dembroski, clearly a fan of the indie roguelike FTL, also hit out at the way the industry is geared towards giant franchises. "Games like FTL ... suffer because corporate America wants the "design by numbers" bullshit." He finished by warning people not to trust EA, not because they're bad, but because they're "robotic." "Paint by numbers. They see video games as a collection of features. They don't understand the artistic aspect of it. And they NEVER fucking will. EVER! Nor will any corporate entity."

His frustration is probably compounded by the tight annual cycle particular to the EA Sports arm of the company. It's a criticism that holds some merit, but going so far as to say that corporate meddling stifles artistic creativity is a bit of a stretch. More accurately, metrics and financial constraints act as the parameters for that creativity to be expressed in. There are plenty of examples of what, at face value, could be considered "design by numbers" features being elevated into genuinely great additions.

Take Mass Effect 3's multiplayer. On the face of it, adding multiplayer to a traditionally singleplayer franchise is a cynical box-ticking move. But the co-op horde variant was instead a deep and enjoyable aspect of the game, albeit with somewhat unnecessary integration into the main campaign. Or there's Need for Speed's Autolog, a social integration layer that Criterion developed into a robust, competitive layer that generated content in a far more natural way than the series' own campaign structure.
PC Gamer

How would you like to try Red 5's upcoming open world multiplayer alien blaster, Firefall? It's got jetpacks, and creepy crawly beasties, and it's set on the golden beaches of Copacabana hundreds of years in the future. Thanks to a terrible event involving an asteroid and a malfunctioning spaceship, future Earth is wrapped in a glittering purple miasma called The Melding that makes it look like a wrapped sweet from orbit. Sadly, the shiny purple stuff is terribly poisonous to the remaining vestiges of humanity, and it has warped all of Earth's creatures into aggressive mutants. That's more than enough excuse forge sweet sets of robo-armour and start the fight back.

If you'd like to spend a weekend helping humanity save Earth from a terrible purple death, follow the link below for a chance to win one of 5,000 beta keys!

Let me into this weekend's Firefall beta!

This beta event starts on Friday and concludes on Sunday. Codes will go out via email once the giveaway wraps up on Friday. Keys can be redeemed on the Firefall site, where you'll find lots more information on Red 5's free to play shooter.
PC Gamer
The Old Republic FTP

The Old Republic's move into the free-to-play market lets players run through each of the game's class stories in their entirety without paying a single penny. The handouts end there, with free-to-play players being treated like third-class citizens in most areas of the MMO's systems. At times the restrictions can feel downright petty. Just look at the comparison chart. Want to sprint? Not till you're level 15. Want to revive in the field? You can do it five times per character, but then you have to pay.

But in a post on TOR's dev blog, Bioware are keen to stress that the restrictions on free-to-play and "preferred status" players - those who have bought an in-game item or own a physical copy of the game - are open to player feedback.

"One of the most important things to us is to hear player feedback on their game experience," writes Jeff Hickman, TOR's Executive Producer. "Our community team truly has an ear to the ground with community concerns and discussions and we often make changes based on player feedback ... We want you to know that this is an ongoing dialogue."

Previously, in the 1.5 patch, Bioware raised the number of quickbars for free-to-play players from one to two. Now, in a new update, they're tweaking that number again, giving preferred status players four quickbars, and refunding the Cartel Coins of anyone who previously purchased one.

The patch has also increased the number of Global Active Characters that subscribers can have. "If you wanted to, you can truly create your own army of Troopers or a legion of Sith Warriors."

These are all steps in the right direction, albeit small ones. Obviously Bioware need to give advantages to subscribers and players prepared to pay, and the free-to-play balance can be difficult to get right. But there's a difference between treating paying customers well and showing non-payers active disdain. Right now, TOR still feels more like it's doing the latter.
PC Gamer
bundle eclectic

There are a lot of bundles around at the moment, so many that it can be hard to keep track, but even among the cacophony, Bundle In A Box is one that stands out. A reminder: it's the bundle that directly supports indie developers in the form of the Indie Dev Grant, in addition to donating money to charity. The latest pay-what-you-want bundle launched yesterday, offering (at a basic level) Shadows of the Vatican Act 1, Delve Deeper, War of the Human Tanks, Eversion, and first-person psychological horror Fibrillation, which is worth playing even despite the rubbish voiceover.

As ever, beating the odds (the odds currently being $2.47) will get you more games, in this instance The Adventures of Shuggy, Stay Dead, The 4th Wall and Flibble, a top-down adventure game inspired by the Atari 2600 classic Adventure. As the bundle title suggests, it's definitely an eclectic bunch, offering strategy, horror, pointing and/or clicking and more - all games, naturally, are DRM-free.

Bundle creator/organiser Kyttaro Games are also offering exclusive content for their upcoming "sci-fi action puzzle game" Droidscape (more details here). Their latest Bundle In A Box has 13 days left on the clock, and has currently raised (at the time of writing) around $240 for charity, and nearly $200 for the Indie Dev Grant - an extra $10 is added for every 100 bundles sold. If you feel like helping out/getting loads of games for peanuts, head here.
PC Gamer
League of Legends thumbnail

As an outsider to the MOBA scene, I'd kind of assumed that harassment and verbal abuse were pretty much the entire point of the genre. Apparently not, as Riot's esports team have made the decision to permanently ban IWillDominate, a pro-gamer signed to Team Dignitas.

The League of Legends Tribunal shared their decision on the game's forums. They point out that, while they do not tolerate any unsportsmanlike behaviour, IWillDominate - real name, Christian Rivera - was particularly notable because of how "severe and consistent" his behaviour was.

In the ruling, the Tribunal outlined how Rivera had been brought before them a total nine times, and had been punished eight times as a result of those hearings. They said that, despite this, his harassment score had risen by 30% since August, "placing him at the top of the list of North American pro players and among the worst 0.7% of all North American players." That's the thing about pros - they're always trying to be number one at something.

Rivera was found guilty of consistent breaches of the Sumnmoner's Code, which establishes the standards of behaviour expected of all League of Legends players. "His persistent tendency to engage in verbal abuse and insults, his lack of cordial demeanor, and his treatment of less-skilled players is unacceptable for any player, especially a high-profile professional player who has a regular opportunity to lead the community by example."

As a result, the Tribunal has permanently banned all of his known accounts, and Rivera will be unable to play in the game's Championship Series for a year.

It's an interesting and extreme move, but one that's probably necessary for Riot. MOBA communities are infamous for being particularly shouty and vitriolic, and if Riot wants to add to their already massive playerbase, they may have to start combating that perception more aggressively.

Thanks, Kotaku.
PC Gamer
SSD silicon

The one problem with solid state drives? They don’t last. Non-volatile memory will generally just about last 10,000 read/write cycles before it gives up the ghost and falls over. Like, permanently. Dead. Norwegian Blue-style. Taiwan memory manufacturer, Macronix, though has come up with a neat solution which could extend that life to 100 million read/write cycles.

Good, eh?

Now, the principle they are using has been around for a while - essentially if you apply heat to the chips they reset and become usable again - but it’s not been seen as an entirely practical application. Current thinking has meant the entire chip would need to be heated up to temperatures around the 250°C mark. For hours and hours.

Macronix have found however that by designing a flash memory chip housing onboard heaters they can anneal small groups of memory cells as and when needed. If you can apply a brief surge of heat to a small area that can return that section to a usable state again.

They are looking at heating up these tiny groups of memory cells to the tune of 800°C.

Luckily they don’t think it’s something they’ll have to do all that often in order to hit the estimated 100 million cycles, and that it can be done on a sector by sector basis as and when it’s needed.

Macronix anticipates that the whole thing can even be done when the device in question is inactive but still powered, giving the example of something that would then not drain a smartphone battery.

Part of the team behind the Macronix discovery, Hang-Ting Lue, maintains that "we could have done this ten years ago." All it took was someone to look at the problem from a different angle to see how it could be implemented.

I wouldn’t expect to see this plumbed into your next SSD purchase (unless you’re not looking at buying a new drive for a decade or so), but fingers crossed these self-healing flash chips will find their way into our solid state drives soon.