PC Gamer
No Trace 5

It's time to bring the Lord Regent's reign to an end as No Trace reaches its man-possessing, pipe-hopping, accident-staging conclusion. This time, it only takes a few tweaks to the day to day running of Dunwall Tower to turn one guard's innocent clumsiness into, well, one guard's deadly, explosive clumsiness.

Featuring the only shot fired in the series, the problem with scaffolding, and probably the last time anyone will let me near a license-free music archive.

Thus always to tyrants.

If you've watched the series so far, thanks very much! If not, you can see the rest of the episodes here and subscribe to our YouTube channel for everything else we do. Tom's Dishonored review provides a more detailed look at why the game is among the year's best.
PC Gamer
GODUS Volcano Concept

Interview by Philippa Warr

When GODUS, the god game Kickstarter project from Peter Molyneux's 22cans studio, launched in November its promise to reinvent the genre made headlines. But behind Molyneux's characteristically bombastic rhetoric we caught sight of a curiously beautiful game world - part playground, part architecture model and entirely the responsibility of Paul McLaughlin. I caught up with the 22cans self-styled "Dictator of Art" to talk GODUS, 50 metre-high walls of wet death, and the gaming holy trinity.

GODUS has the modest aspiration of completely reinventing the god game genre -- how do you even start with a concept like that?

Even high concept games that seem initially daunting can be broken down to more manageable challenges. You then need an overarching meta style to bind all these elements together.

So how did you come up with GODUS' meta art style?

Forming the art style comes from forming an overview of the experience we're trying to create as quickly as possible, figuring out who our audience is, knowing what's possible technically, being aware of the skills of your team and trying not to panic while you wait for the picture to form.

I sometimes feel my initial responses are 'inspired' but it's generally a deception. They’re usually pretty reactionary and ill-considered but I know myself well enough that if I sleep on the problem, let the various components settle and do enough scribbles that a picture will form. Generally it’s the second or third attempt at solving the problem that shows most promise. It's never a complete solution but it's generally an acceptable beginning.

What were the key inspirations for the project?
The original Populous game and similar titles I worked on since were certainly reference points; if only as a datum to move on from.

Lots of things feed into : satellite imagery, tilt-shift photography, disaster footage, environmental documentaries, flocking behaviour, the paintings of Lowry, Bosch and John Martin, miniature/model worlds -- I'm a child of the Airfix and model railway generation and spent my youth creating miniature escapes. The child inside still loves tiny, detailed things.

It put me in mind of topographical maps and architectural models - god games in their own peculiar way...

Absolutely, I'm so glad you noticed. Architectural models are the key inspiration for the environment. Maps are something I love and am fascinated by too. Once you understand the visual language, they allow us to create worlds in our minds. Extraordinary really.

With GODUS I'm developing the idea of god -- you play a god in the game -- being a combination architect and petulant child playing with the world. From the 'god view' the world will seem like a model, right down to visual effects that are in scale but to the inhabitants of the world everything should seem much more 'real' and relevant. So the god sees a tidal wave behave almost like water sploshing about in a fish tank but to his or her followers it's a genuine 50 metre high wall of wet death.

As an artist does it feel like you're playing your own god game in building this one?

Creating anything is incredibly rewarding and powerful, arguably mystical. I'm sure that the significance we place on human creativity, its ability to take form outside us, and indeed to outlive us, is one of the things that inspired the notion of gods in the first place. In this particular case we're talking about something that requires a group effort, a multidisciplinary team of people, none of whom could create GODUS on their own. We represent the holy trinity of creation; artists, designers and engineers!

Peter Molyneux has referenced Populous a lot, saying he wants to revisit "the glory of the old days in today's format" - were you tempted by an isometric world view or to riff on 8-bit graphic styles as part of that?

Revisit the glory but not rehash the same content. I have been -- and still am -- considering an isometric view of the world but not in a slavish way. We need an elevated view of the world and there was a nice symmetry with Populous to consider. So far it looks great (I think) but if the user experience is poor or it doesn’t support the gameplay effectively then I'm happy to move on.

There are a lot of 8-bit styled experiences out there now, including a very stylish Populous revision called Reprisal Universe. However while it's of the moment I think it’s fast becoming a bit of a cliché and having lived through it the first time around I don't have any personal ambition to revisit it. What it tells me though is that there is a great fondness for the titles of the late 1980s and 1990s. Perhaps it's a reaction against the sanitary, big budget nature of AAA console titles. I find that encouraging and refreshing.

Are there any challenges specific to creating an art style for a god game as opposed to something like an RPG?

Well you have to use the style and themes that detach the player from the 'world' but keep him or her engaged with the experience. An RPG puts you in the world you're a participant in but with a god-game you're more of a voyeur, affecting events on a grand scale but in a detached way. This is why I'm considering the player as the architect, controller, creator rather than the warrior, wizard or whatever.

In GODUS the longer a building or settlement exists, the more it builds up - what other techniques are you using to keep the landscape vital and engaging?

Ha ha, yeah I never expected that one to be pulled out as something significant. The thought was a small one; build on a tiny space and you build tall, on a bigger footprint you build out. I was looking for ways for settlements to develop in an interesting fashion without having to make the world look like a carpark. I was think of how makeshift dwellings organically develop into complex structures like the favelas in Brazil.

Other than that it's early days on how the world will develop. We have lots of ideas but we’ll apply them in response to gameplay requirements and obvious lackings rather than force them all in at the start.

What level of detail can we expect to see on the inhabitants of the GODUS world - are there individuals and races or are they more just symbols of human presence?

For me they’re almost like ants in an ant hill. Their character really comes out (to the god) through their meta behaviour, how they flock, worship, expand, die and so on. I don't feel that they should have individual personalities. Perhaps if we go in close, in a first person view, it’d be nice to pick out individuals and tell their story. That'd be a nice contrast between god and follower although the work involved is significant.

Your LinkedIn profile has you describing your current role as Dictator of Art - how much of the GODUS artwork is your personal vision and how much input do the rest of the team have?

Yes, well I chose that title deliberately. Certainly the other artists are very talented, contribute a great deal and have already helped define much of the look but I’m very keen to retain ownership and can be a bit of a grumpy old man when required.

I would say the 'vision' so far has been 90 percent mine but the realisation is 100 percent down to teamwork. I absolutely love working with other artists and we discuss pretty much everything but in the end it's my call. Having said that I’m pretty sure they all see me as completely charming, a brother, a benevolent uncle, a confidant, a witty raconteur and an absolute dream to work with.

Which other games do you admire in terms of their art style?

Things like Limbo and Journey were very refreshing and, of course, Little Big Planet and Tearaway from Media Molecule, those guys are great. Wildfire Worlds from James Boty is looking like great fun too and we're both referencing similar things at the moment which is interesting.

These are all admirable and I love them but I do prefer to seek inspiration from outside the industry. I'd love to do something referencing the world of particle physics, scientific imaging, electron microscopy and the nano world. But that's another story!

What keeps you coming back to work with Peter?

Like a lot of the world, it seems I find Peter both infuriating and inspiring in equal measure. However while many people infuriate me there are very few who inspire, I guess that's why we're still working together. Certainly there could be easier and more straightforward working relationships but then, what's the point in that?

I signed up for 22cans to be on the front line not in reserve. Peter is always at the front line going 'Come on guys, don't sit down there in the mud, let's go over the top. I've got this great plan, it'll be awesome…' and often it is.

Thanks to Paul for his time.
PC Gamer
Cargo Commander review

Alone in space, with nothing but emails from loved ones, uncaring corporate missives and an endlessly looping folksy theme song for company. Such is the life of a Cargo Commander.

Far from menial labour, it’s a perilous task. When you activate your ship’s magnet, a wave of containers come crashing into it, breaking off panels to provide easy entrance. And, because we’re in space, those containers are full of dangerous mutants. Every workplace is going to have some jerks.

The key satisfaction of the 2D platforming is your ability to create your route. You’ll face impassable obstacles, low gravity, no gravity and hordes of mutants, but your commander has a drill that enables him to remove walls and platforms. Can’t reach the cargo you’ve been employed to collect? Take out a side panel, jump into the vacuum of space, manoeuvre around the container and re-enter through the top. Just try not to think about how you’re able to survive without a helmet or navigate without propulsion. Trade secrets.

Somewhere in there is a ‘sector pass’ to the next level.

You explore each wave, collecting precious cargo, killing enemies for their hats (which serve as currency for upgrades) and grabbing new weapons. Eventually a wormhole will open, dragging everything but your ship into the void. This leads to some fantastic moments as you desperately drill your way out of a container and plunge into open space, hoping to make it home before your air runs out.

It’s fun, if a bit lightweight. The waves of containers get larger and more complex, the mutants tougher and the ammo more scarce. Die and your score, caps and upgrades are reset, and you wake up in your bed ready to start all over again.

While you’re free to make another run through the same waves of containers, you can also travel to a new sector. Cleverly, there’s an online aspect to this. Pick a sector that’s been played before and you’ll be given the same layout and cargo as everyone else, enabling you to compete for high-scores and stumble upon (and loot) the dead bodies of other players. Alternatively you can create a new sector, letting the game randomly generate unique waves.

Hopefully this cargo will be the ultra-rare Alien Sex Toy.

It’s a great feature, but one with a structural problem. You gain promotions (earning permanent upgrades) based on how many of the 88 different types of cargo you’ve collected. It encourages you to do the bare minimum: collecting each area’s six items, finding the pass that allows you to unlock more sectors, then ending the day and travelling somewhere new.

An inadvertent commentary on job satisfaction it may be, but it means there’s no compelling reason to progress to the harder waves beyond high-score boasting. There are some great ideas at the heart of Cargo Commander, but the game gives up the reward without ever pushing the risk.
PC Gamer
Portal 2 Lego thumb

Everything can be made better with Lego. We've already seen this theory proved time and time again with the Lego: Well Known Franchise series of games. But if you're still not convinced, here's a selection of scenes from Portal 2, remade brilliantly into a series of Lego built vignettes.

The five minute film was created by Alex Kobbs for Machinima's Interactive Film Festival, and is the first of a two-part project. Other films on the festival's site include a remake of the first GTA 5 trailer, also made from Lego. Ah, Lego... Is there anything it can't do?

Thanks, Kotaku.
PC Gamer
bioshock news header

It will also be the most ambitious thing Irrational has ever done, according to Ken Levine, BioShock Infinite's creative director.

We sent two intrepid reporters to get the lowdown on Irrational's follow-up to BioShock, this time set aboard Columbia, a floating city inspired by ideas of American exceptionalism circa 1900. Both Tom F and Evan got to sit down and play the game for several hours, and then caught up with Levine for a lengthy chat afterwards - more of which you will be able to read in the January edition of the magazine. But we couldn't resist teasing you with Levine's comments to Tom about how the team reacted to criticism of BioShock's ending - specifically, how that game failed to evolve following its twist.

Tom F: The most common complaint I hear about Bioshock is that after the Andrew Ryan moment it wasn’t as interesting. Do you agree with that?

Ken Levine: Yeah.

What did you learn from it?

KL: I would say that the ending of the game is the most ambitious thing we’ve ever done in our careers as a company. It is either going to be something incredibly wonderful or people are going to burn down our office. We are very aware of that, we want to make sure this experience was the reason you say the end was very meaningful. So I can’t tell whether people will like it or not, I can tell you it is absolutely different to anything you’ve seen in a videogame.

That's quite a promise, no?

Read Tom's initial spoiler-free impressions of the game, or Evan's lengthier analysis.
PC Gamer
Planetside 2 thumb

It's a great weekend to round-up a rag-tag collection of friends, before throwing them up against the defences of the despicable Vanu/NC/Terrans (delete as applicable) until they're a battle-hardened squad of warriors. Or to just aimlessly fly about in a Mosquito, desperately hoping you at least catch sight of a battle before crashing. That's my tactic, and it's working for me.

This weekend, Planetside 2 will begin throwing out double XP, thus twice rewarding your continent capturing efforts. A tweet from the Planetside 2 official Twitter account explains that this is "a Thank You to players for sticking it out through some launch week server instability." Hopefully this is also a sign that those unstable wrinkles have now been ironed out.

Using this tweet from SOE's Matt Higby, which this morning revealed that the XP boost would be active in 12 hours, and combining it with the ancient power known as Maths, we can determine that they'll be kicking off at 5pm GMT. Hey, that's in the next hour! Better get that Galaxy prepped.

Thanks, PCGamesN.
PC Gamer
Dragon Age 2 Soldier thumb

There are many great things about the Dragon Age games, but simplicity of purchasing options has never been one of them. In the run up to both games' release, it appeared as if you could receive a different in-game pre-order bonus depending on where you bought it from, the time of purchase, or whether you chose an even or odd day of the month to place your order. I think there was even a special helmet made just for people who had drunk exactly 13,964 cups of coffee in their lifetime.

Bioware are finally collecting Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II's many disparate items together, and will give all of them to you, for free, if you go to this promo page and log-in with your EA Origin account details. You don't even need to own the game, so if you're ever planning to pick it up in the future, feel free to stock up on freebies now.

In return, you'll receive 40 items of +3 this and -7% of that. You don't get any of the actual content packs with the giveaway, but it's still a nice bonus drop of loot. I'd go into specifics, but I've forgotten my enchanted socks of +5 Tolerance to Stat Trawling.

One notable inclusion is the Fan Reward Pack, a three-item bundle that was previously only available to people who went to the 2011 San Diego Comic Con. Sucks to be those guys - their reward has just become a lot less exclusive.
PC Gamer
webgame header 14

The start of December has been kind to like-roguelike-likes, with the excellent Red Rogue (more on that story later) moving from demo to finished game, and setting up permanent residence on my hard drive. However, if you prefer something a little less tense, you could always try a tower-climbing action game, a Pro Gaming simulator or even a post-apocalyptic adventure game. You'll find the lowdown on each after the break.

Red Rogue by Aaron Steed Play it online here.

Fans of hat simulator Team Fortress 2 will be in heaven.

I first encountered Red Rogue a few months ago, when I thought I was playing the finished version, but this updated build features countless additions to the core sidescrolling dungeon-crawling action. For the uninitiated: it's a roguelike. Actually it's more than just a roguelike, as it's also an unofficial sequel to Rogue, the relatively simple randomly-generated ascii RPG that kicked the whole movement off. The major differences here are that sidescrolling perspective, coupled with a skeletal minion that travels faithfully at your side, dispatching enemies on your behalf as well as wearing any hats you can bear to part with.

Oh yeah, the hats. Hats are important in Red Rogue, not just for raising your defence but for making you look swish in front of the goblins, cactuars and other shadowy creatures that reside in the bowels of this almost monochrome gauntlet. My favourite is the top hat, mainly because it's a top hat, but you'll doubtless find your own favourites too. Like all the best roguelikes, there's a streak of chaotic comedy piercing through the unremitting tension, mostly evidenced here by the delightful spritework.

You can play Red Rogue online at the above link (or at Newgrounds, if you prefer), though there's also an offline version of the game. If you like what you see, you can thank creator Aaron Steed with a cup of coffee (or a White Russian, if you want to get him hammered).

7Soul's Tower by 7Soul Play it online here.

That's me using the boost button, shortly before another humiliating death.

7Soul's Tower isn't your average one-button action game, mainly because it features two buttons - one to jump, and another to do a spinny boost thing that just might get you out of tricky situations. Conceived for Ludum Dare's latest MiniLD competition, and discovered by Free Indie Games, 7Soul's Tower is the kind of game I can see people losing a lot of time (and sleep) to. Thankfully, I'm terrible at it, far too terrible to embarrass myself any further, but you might fare better than me. A blind donkey would fare better than me.

The only thing I can't work out is if the game lacks music, or my computer just hates HTML5, but that's the only element missing here. So stick on a soundtrack of someone screaming at how rubbish you are (alternatively, ring up your old PE teacher) and get playing. And replaying. And replaying.

Pro Gamer: The Game by Catavento Play it online here.

What a stereotypical representation of gamers. I have a carpet, dammit.

I'm not sure that Pro Gamer: The Game really captures the spirit of Pro Gaming (in that it doesn't feature a team of Koreans staring intently at a bank of monitors), but it is a fun series of microgames that offers a view of gaming not normally seen: one of the person sitting behind the TV/monitor screen. As IndieGames point out, PG:TG won $6,000 at the Brazilian International Games Festival - not bad for something whipped up in 24 hours, without access to the outside world.

Basically, you earn cash by playing microgames on the TV, like a simple rhythm game, a space invaders clone and so on. You can then use the cash to buy upgrades, including a better TV and chair and, er, doritos.

RED by AwkwardSilenceGames Play it online here.

This week's round-up is brought to you by the colour red. But not the film RED - that stinks.

It's a shame that RED will seemingly never be finished, because this demo contains the foundations for a game I'd really like to play. It's a point-and-click adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world. Wolves and bandits roam the forest outside your community's sheltering walls, and can only be fended off with crap you find lying on the ground. The art style (inspired by Sword & Sworcery) is impressive, and I like the inclusion of RPG battles, even if they're a bit placeholder at the moment.

Sadly, it lacks music. It also lacks convincing walking animation - but then RED is unfinished after all. Hopefully AwkwardSilenceGames will return to the game at some point, because I'd like to know (and see) more of this world. (Spotted by IndieGames.)
PC Gamer

I spent about two and a half hours with BioShock: Infinite yesterday during a press event in Los Angeles. Infinite already feels like something really special, mostly on the merits of its presentation and creativity. Inside, I’ve expounded on five things I really liked.

Go read Tom’s spoiler-free preview for more thoughts on the same demo, and check out a list of things I didn’t love.

Graphical performance
I’ll get this bit of reassurance out of the way: Infinite ran perfectly. Our demo PCs were admittedly above average: an AMD FX-8120 (an octo-core CPU) and a single card in the AMD Radeon 7900 series (I didn’t have time to verify which one), alongside 16GB RAM on Windows 7. With that considered, I didn’t experience any hiccups, frame rate dips, no texture pop-in, or crashes.

Digging into the settings menu, here’s what was adjustable:

Texture detail
Dynamic shadows
Post-processing quality
Light shafts
Ambient occlusion
Object detail
FOV (a slider, with no listed value)
UI margins
Toggleable highlighting of “searchable” or “important” objects
An Irrational developer told me that Infinite is running on DirectX 10, but that it does take advantage of some DX11 features.

With its fiction, Infinite lays bare the worst of American history: racism, sexism, class warfare, secessionism, and the dangers of nationalism. But masterfully, it expresses these concepts without being heavy-handed. Walking Columbia, citizens’ deeply-entrenched racism is immediately evident through the comments they’ll make as you pass, but many of these are innocuous and pleasantly normal, too: I saw kids playing "finger guns" across a stairway, muttering kid-made shooting noises as they did. I also stumbled into the hidden home of abolitionists--in their living room sat a printing press for publishing posters that encouraged racial equality. What I played of Infinite avoided caricature or any kind of elbow-in-the-ribs parody, which I appreciated.

Beyond that, the game’s tableau of intellectually-challenging themes pervade its presentation. Even in the first hour, Infinite felt like it had struck a conversation with me about American history and different ideologies, an experience that still feels preciously unique to the franchise.

The world
BioShock’s willingness to throw handcrafted assets at you is unparalleled. Irrational devotes an inordinate amount of effort to creating elegant 2D posters, detailed 3D models for ordinary objects and authentic music (Mozart’s Rex Tremendae Requiem appears at one point to great effect). The time they invest in creating this content creates guilt when you don’t stop to look at it, so much of it is treated as disposable ephemera, used only for a single key scene or key moment.

I stopped for a half-minute to examine the realistic glean of an oil painting portrait, whose brushstrokes were cast in all different directions--the paint itself seemed to have depth or tessellation on its surface. At least half a dozen Kinetoscope machines scattered across Columbia offered brief, silent propaganda films (with titles like "The Word of the Prophet," "Father Comstock's Gift of Prophecy," and Solving The Irish Problem"). Health-restoring edibles seemed uncountable: hot dogs, bananas, boxed corn flakes, oranges, soda, coffee, and various alcohols.

To avoid spoiling anything, I won’t touch on specific areas of the world too much, but I particularly liked the way an early segment introduces weapons and Vigors (more on them in What I Don’t Love)--it’s effortless and entertaining. You stumble into an idyllic, xenophobic carnival in Columbia, and can step (right) up to fire a shotgun or carbine against laterally-moving cardboard cutouts of the Vox Populi. The "Cast out the Devil" game in this area takes place in a makeshift living room, where you have to aim the Bucking Bronco Vigor (a seismic wave that pops enemies up) at a devil while avoiding a cardboard facsimile of a woman holding a baby. Hilarious. Tiered prizes are awarded for your performance in all these micro-games.

Weapon appearance is also great: Booker’s pistol is a Mauser’s cousin of a magazine-fed handgun cast in scuffed, textured steel.


Remember that home of pro-equality abolitionists I mentioned? During this section, Columbia’s police are chasing you as you flee through the city. You enter the house during a small lull in the pursuit, but as you do you hear the 1912 fuzz rapping at the front door, They want in. The house’s owners reassure you--they’re not going to give you up.

In my second playthrough of this moment, I did the dumbest thing I could: I tried shooting one of the moral, innocent civilians whose home I’d intruded on. You’re not at all prompted to do this, and your weapon actually lowers if you look at them, but I wanted to see how Infinite would respond. When I did, the character died and the police stormed in, sparking a firefight right in the living room. This isn’t a sure event: when I initially played it, I didn’t shoot them and snuck out a rear exit to confront those police in the street. I tested a similar scenario during a visit to a mansion belonging to the Order of the Raven--civilians on the bottom floor will fight you if you shoot one of them, but will leave you alone completely if you don’t. These incidental, small discoveries are a great sign to me; it’s encouraging that Infinite reacts when I do something dumb and impulsive.

After about 40 minutes in, Booker has a magnetic pinwheel-grappling hook attached attached to his left hand, a device used to slide on Columbia’s Sky Lines--airborne transit rails that connect the city. This tool is also your constant melee weapon, and you see it used to deal executions against basic enemies. They’re brutal. The curved, smooth metal fins of the weapon might turn a police officer’s head clean. One animation roughly simulates what it’d be like to kill a man with a motorized egg-whisk through his larynx. I’m not crazy that you’re invulnerable during these executions, though.

Tune in tomorrow for a pile of things I didn’t enjoy about BioShock Infinite, and look forward to a larger preview of the game in both print editions PC Gamer.
PC Gamer
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I’ll get this bit of reassurance out of the way: Infinite runs perfectly. Our demo PCs were admittedly above average: an AMD FX-8120 (an octo-core CPU) and a single card in the AMD Radeon 7900 series (I didn't have time to verify which one), alongside 16GB RAM on Windows 7. With that considered, I didn't experience any hiccups, frame rate dips, no texture pop-in, or crashes.

Digging into the settings menu, here’s what was adjustable...

Texture detail
Dynamic shadows
Post-processing quality
Light shafts
Ambient occlusion
Object detail
FOV (a slider, with no listed value)
UI margins
Toggleable highlighting of “searchable” or “important” objects

An Irrational developer told me that Infinite is running on DirectX 10, but that it does take advantage of some DX11 features.

Reassuring stuff - if only every dev gave the PC as much love.