I am in favour of the RPG-ification of all things. I want points for successfully waking up in the morning, points for getting my legs through the right holes in my trousers, points for not falling over and voiding my bowels on the way to work. Shift 2 has the right idea: it gives me points for everything.
I overtake another car and the invisible car god of the sky gives me 20 points. I stymie a rival’s progression through the pack by weaving my multi-thousand dollar machine in front of his, and he gifts me another ten. All points from my benevolent driving lord go toward Shift 2’s career mode, and fuel a healthy and compulsive unlock schedule that makes me want to swear undying fealty to my new car god and kill all unbelievers.
Points spill forth from all Shift 2’s orifices. Winning races or getting the fastest lap on a time attack session will typically give the largest rewards, but they don’t satisfy quite like the mid-race prizes. On default settings, Shift 2’s tracks are lit up by a racing line of green chevrons: follow them perfectly and you’ll tot up XP. Each course has mini achievements – leading for a lap, or following the line through every corner – and the points-haul is chunky.
Connecting solidly with the racing line and sticking to it adds an extra frisson to an already tense game, but the wayward handling model makes the process more complicated than it needs to be. Shift 2’s default camera mode is in the racer’s helmet. Slightly Mad studios have artfully recreated the sense of climbing into a turbocharged tin can and getting knocked about so hard your vision swims, but in doing so, it feels like they’ve tied Shift 2’s cars too closely to your on-screen hand movements.
Let’s take turning left as an example. On a Xbox 360 pad (and for the love of new magic sky god, do not attempt to play with a keyboard – controller or wheel only), pushing the stick slowly to the left has one of two outcomes: a yank on the wheel that realigns your car at least ten degrees, or nothing at all. As an experience, the helmet cam is breathtaking – being close to the tarmac with the noise and speed feels properly dangerous. But to win races, I had to switch to the behind-the-car camera, or suffer as my guesses about the way my car was facing were proved wrong. Mastering a race from further out, Shift 2’s all-or-nothing handling can be studied, judged, and reasoned with. Car type and quality make a huge difference, necessitating some minor grinding. I was having problems finishing on the podium in one of the game’s early C-class races, using a cheapo front-wheel drive Nissan. Much swearing later, I hocked it and used some extra cash to pick up a four-wheel drive Impreza, adding a few technical-sounding tweaks from the garage along the way. Popping back into the same race, I slipped my competitors on the first corner and giggled all the way to the top spot.
Shift 2’s sheer weight of stuff – from mud-ring circuits in a VW Golf to Bugatti duels at the Nurburgring – gives it a deep bag of appeal. There’s an array of fiddly details for car geeks to poke at, and a range of control-difficulty settings that allow you to tailor races to your ability. The only downside to such a complete package is that it demands so many hours of acclimatisation before the cars start to make sense
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The new Duke Nukem Forever release date raised a question around the PC Gamer US office: why is this game, which stars the quintessential American badass, is made by an American developer, and is published by an American company being released four days later in North America than internationally?
What gives? Don’t 2K and Gearbox know that Americans have grown accustomed to preferential treatment? Who are the conspirators behind this? We want names!
We asked 2K PR Manager Charlie Sinhaseni, and the answer is so simple that it’ll surprise you.
“We have a commitment to our fans to get the game out as early as possible, and every day counts. New games are available on Tuesday in North America, so we’re getting the game out as early as possible in this territory. The international markets do not adhere to this release timing, and it just happens that they will be able to release the game a few days before North America. We don’t want to hold it back, we want to get it into the hands of consumers as soon as possible,” says Sinhaseni.
So there you have it: it’s all the retail world’s fault. While it’s true that digital distribution knows no release schedule, big, powerful companies like Walmart and GameStop get their shipments of new games on Tuesdays, and don’t appreciate the online competition getting a head start. Publishers can ignore the wrath of the retailers at their own risk, of course, but in a climate where every game sale counts, it’s hard to blame them for going after those retail dollars.
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To make Origins, BioWare dredged up buckets of backstory from the minds of their best writers. A new land was invented, branded with religious intolerance and inherent racism. Then, once the continent of Thedas was concrete, BioWare forgot they’d invented all that engaging stuff and slapped a typical ‘kill the big bad thing’ fantasy plotline on top. For all its size and wonder, Origins didn’t make full use of its fascinating world.
Dragon Age 2 does it right. It’s still an RPG epic, it still takes upwards of 50 hours to finish. It’s still got a deep, complex combat system, and it’s still got a well-defined supporting cast. But it’s also an RPG that wears its mythology proudly, confident in its goal of charting the rise of a complete and utter badass. You.
We expect our RPG heroes to experience a gradual learning process, gaining skill and abilities as they discover that, ahh, the pointy end of the sword is best inserted into an enemy. But the first time I controlled Hawke, I had access to top-tier combat skills. Surrounded by Darkspawn on a hillside, I murdered with wild abandon.
DA2’s combat is spring-loaded. Cooldown periods and time penalties are just as integral as they were in Origins, but this time they happen at end of lightning fast moves. I played a rogue. My backstab started with Hawke hurling an exploding flask to the floor, before reappearing behind an enemy and driving his main blade into their spine. The whole move took a second to execute, and impacted flesh with a shudder-inducing squelch. Another move catapulted me out of battle with an instant backflip, letting me escape from an imminent battering.
I could happily list all my skills and the ways they eviscerated people for the rest of this review, but I have a word count. Last one. My favourite skill was called ‘Annihilation.’ An upgrade of the high-level ‘Assassination’ move, it made Hawke simply jab two blades into the face of the foe standing nearest to him – at which point, they’d usually burst into a fine scarlet mist. For every class, every combat skill kills something in a new and exciting way.
Have beard, will slay
Hawke’s ties to the first game are explicit. He or she (your choice) starts Dragon Age 2 as a refugee from Lothering. Lothering, for those of you unfamiliar with the first game, was twatted square-on by the Blight of the Darkspawn (read as: ‘pseudoorcs’, fantasy noobs). Hawke (I’ll use the male pronoun here purely because I played as a dude) managed to escape, with family and fantastically trimmed beard in tow. At the time of the hillside combat just described, he was making his way to the city of Kirkwall.
I killed the final Darkspawn, and the camera yanked out and away to a darkened room, and a dwarf with a hairy chest. It’s ten years later.
The fight was a flashback. The dwarf is being forced to tell Hawke’s story by a mysterious woman dressed in the robes and symbols of Thedas’ hyper-religious Chantry. This is Dragon Age 2’s big conceit, and part of the reason the game hangs together so well. The dwarf is Varric, and he’s telling the story all wrong. Varric is a companion and potential party member, and knows more than most about his bearded buddy’s motivations – but he’s also an inveterate story-embellisher.
The woman explains the situation: the world is on the brink of war and Hawke – the ‘Champion of Kirkwall’ – can help. There are only two certainties: the first, that Hawke arrived in Kirkwall. The second, that ten years later he somehow became the city’s champion. She wants to fill in the blanks.
Actually, there are three certainties. The third is unwritten, but simple: any way you play Hawke, he remains one suave bastard. His tone sits firmly on the plummy side of ‘commanding’, but very few of the dialogue options have him come across as anything less than mildly awesome.
The game’s developers have nicked Mass Effect’s conversation wheel and split most interactions into a threetiered system: saintly, aggressive, and – most fun – cheeky.
Only very occasionally did I feel neutered by my choice. I’ve typically approached BioWare games as the reincarnation of some major saint, waiving rewards and helping puppies save their lost kittens. I’d resigned myself to selecting the goody-twoboots option throughout Dragon Age 2, and cringing as I politely thanked the man who tried to stab my kidneys out. Instead, nice-o-Hawke is just as judgemental as his chums loloHawke and HAWKE-SMASH – he merely phrases things with a touch more tact.
I found myself flipping between responses depending on the situation – actually using the full dialogue spectrum. The lack of an arbitrary karma system meant I could do so without fear of being pigeonholed. Guy trying to extort money from the dragon-infested mine I own half a stake in? You shall feel my tongue-wrath! Cower as I shout! Lovely elf stabbed by her deranged husband? Best be nice to her as she splutters her lifeblood all over the floor. Soz, elfy!
Rub up against one of the game’s Serious Moral Choices™ and your once-neat conversation wheel goes all muddled. In my first year, I rescued a mage from the dictatorial control of the Templars. Three years later, I faced his mother who explained he’d crossed into the Fade – Dragon Age’s strange netherworld – and ran the risk of becoming someone who could melt other peoples’ brains by coughing wrong. Launching into the wibbly half-light of that realm, I had to make a genuine choice: destroy the magicusing faculties of this kid’s mind, or let him become a danger to society. I put my mouse down, stood up, and paced around my room. It’s a rare feat when a game encourages walking, yet Dragon Age 2 does it all the time.
The world of Thedas is one of racism and fascism: only in the second game have BioWare really come to terms with this and brought up some genuinely dark questlines.
The ten-year-long story arc adds to the burden of your choices. In another game, I’d have spared the mage boy, tootled off to another town and forgotten all about him. And saved the world next week sometime. But here, with ten years to play with, you have to consider the long game. Letting a danger loose in an earlier year can see it come back to bite you in the arse later, like a timetravelling dog who loves biting arses.
Worse, the people you’ve wronged won’t necessarily target you. You’re all right, you’ve got knives as big as your arm and a pocket full of potions. Your mum, on the other hand, lives alone in a house in town. You’re off adventuring, and you can’t always be there to protect her. Wouldn’t it be safer just to stove this upstart’s face in now?
In the end, I had to sever the unfortunate boy’s connection to the Fade, and leave him a few intellectual steps above a carrot in the process. He now hangs around the Viscount’s Keep, talking in a quiet monotone and making me feel bad.
Dragon Age 2’s story is driven by these moments of tension and forced choice. They always feel organic and truly contextual.
Outside of a few trips to the Deep Roads and a saunter to a Dalish camp, everything in Dragon Age 2 happens in Kirkwall. At first, I felt a little let down by the lack of escape from that single city, but ten years in the same place also breeds a welcome familiarity. There are benefits to knowing a city backwards: it let me get a complete grasp on the game’s complicated political situation.
Hightown is home to the rich and idle, Darktown is a disused mine full of beggars and brigands. Out by the docks, there’s a Qunari compound. These giants have been redefined since Origins’ Sten – taller, broader and more muscular than a man as well as growing a snazzy set of horns, they practise a societal fundamentalism that gnaws at the authority of the establishment. There’s a constant back-and-forth between the conflicting views, and your Hawke is free to come down on either side of the scrap. That’s underpinned by a deeper struggle between the mages and the templars. The latter believe the former need to be controlled with an iron fist, and the former say they want to live free, and maybe go a little bit mad and kill loads of people. Make your allegiances clear and you’ll change the course of the whole game.
Who’s (had) who
So many games promise real choice but fail to deliver. Dragon Age 2 is the most impressive attempt I’ve seen to make the decisions players make in a game mean something. I can’t wait until everyone else in the office has played it, so they can tell me what would’ve happened if I’d only killed person X in my sixth year in the city.
I also want to know who they slept with. DA2’s romantic options are near-unconstrained. You meet a party member, chances are you can bone them (your sibling is one fortunate exception). Male, female, amalgamation of human and spiritual manifestation of justice: all are fair game. Personally, I developed a mild obsession with sexy lady pirate captain Isabela, despite (because of?) her terrifically impractical adventuring gear of a shirt and no trousers. She talked a good talk, too. Dragon Age 2’s incidental conversations are splendid: ruder, funnier, and just plain better than Origins’ “SO WHAT DO YOU DO THEN?” platitudes. Wandering around town, Isabela treated me to tales of orgies and hit on my friends. I was in love. Still, despite her repeatedly stated desire to defrock anyone standing within two feet of her, her wooing became a decade-long process. Eventually, our relationship matured from friends-with-sexy-benefits to live-in lovers.
But I was spoilt for choice. Most of DA2’s companions are excellent; the only dud is Hawke’s sibling (sister in my male playthrough), who lacks in personality. Varric is a smart-mouth dwarf, Merrill a delightfully Welsh Dalish elf, Fenris a lanky ex-slave, tattooed with veins of pure, magicgiving lyrium, and clutching a broadsword as long as his body.
My companions were more than just willing conversational partners. Dragon Age 2’s combat system is rapid and satisfying, but it’s also more intricate than Origins’. Each companion has their own set class, but from there, specialisation is largely up to you. I made sure to take at least one warrior with my party at all times. That meant I was rolling with ginger guardslady Aveline, or brooding elf Fenris. Both had access to a broadly similar skill tree, but couldn’t be further apart in battle technique. I specced Aveline as a tank, pumping her skill points into her constitution and cunning to bolster her defence, buying and equipping her with the best armour and a gigantic shield. She screamed taunts over the din of battle to attract attention from foes, before settling into a defensive stance. Fenris went the other way. I funnelled points into his strength and trained him up with two-handed weapons. In a stand-up slugfest he was flimsy, but he rarely let it get to that: his speed and reach on the battlefield meant most enemies were on their backsides with a caved-in face before they could ready any truly devastating attacks.
Both had their place by my side, depending on the situation and my mood. I found myself rotating my party regularly – sacrilege in a lot of RPGs that demand a standard party setup to succeed, but sensible here when everyone’s abilities are just so much fun. Even when I was pushed into taking a companion, their unique skill tree gave me room to choose. Anders – returning from Origins’ add-on pack Awakenings – was my party’s de facto healer. But as I invested more into his personal set of abilities, I unlocked two activated modes. One allowed access to more powerful healing spells, but the other turned off his capability to fix his friends in favour of upping his damage potential.
Origins’ free battlefield camera is gone, but a mousewheel scroll gives the zoom you need to see the full field of play. Pausing, issuing a set of orders, then sitting back and watching the chaos unfold is a joy that never gets old. Which is lucky, because the streets of Kirkwall are filled with an improbable amount of nefarious types who want you dead.
Dragon Age 2 is not what you expect. Hell, even during preview sessions, I hadn’t anticipated it being this much of a traditional sequel. But by locking down the context – the world and the politics – BioWare were free to fill their creation with more character and vitality than any title in recent memory. The best RPG of this decade? Nine more years will tell, but for now, yes.
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GDC is over, but there’s no resting here in the PC Gamer office. A quick oil change and some coffee brewed in the heart of a black hole was all it took to get us back into the action. What’s more, we’re armed. Should invading forces again breach the walls of PC Gamer towers, we’ll be ready. Read on for your daily dose of PC gaming news, and a clue as to what we’ve been fighting each other with all day.
- A CryEngine 3 tech demo escapes from GDC.
- Good Old Games tell Adventure Classic Gaming that DRM scares off players.
- Gas Powered Games announce that they’ve taken over development of Age of Empires the only way they know how,a video in which a developer dressed as a Roman warrior fights Master Chief, and Chris Taylor is startled by a dinosaur.
- Here’s some shakycam footage of the Unreal Engine 3 GDC tech demo.
- Bioware have released another video of The Old Republic’s Bounty Hunter.
- Here’s the latest Homefront multiplayer trailer.
- Bioware go over some of the graphical technology behind Dragon Age 2.
- What if Minecraft was a sidescrolling platformer?
- Lego Star Wars 3 is one of the few games where beating a foe to death with the dismembered head of another enemy is cute instead of completely horrifying.
- The latest version of Doom 3 Thief mod, the Dark Project, is out now.
- GamersFirst have posted some of their observations from the APB Reloaded closed beta. “Last week we had to de-power the shotgun that could blow up a car in (almost) one shot.”
Recently we discovered what happens when three people all play as the Imperial Guard Lord General in Dawn of War 2: Retribution’s Last Stand mode. Last Stand throws you into a small arena and throws ever more powerful waves your way. Your stoic heroes must fend them off for experience and new wargear. That wargear includes turrets and entire units of Guardsmen. It’s possible to hole up in the corner of a map behind a wall of cannons and expendable infantrymen, sniping xenos from afar. We love to turtle, how about you?
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Last week at GDC Bungie network engineer David Aldrige seemed to announce that Bungie’s next project would be an MMO, apparently confirming that recent rumours of such a project were true. According to a new post on Bungie.net, the mention of a Bungie MMO was intended as a joke lol.
Bungie representative Urk wrote that “in rehearsal Aldridge was convinced that everybody got the joke. It was all in the delivery, he assured us, and he was certain it was clear that he was playfully riffing off of the recent rumors.” In a published internal email, spotted by Kotaku, Aldrige says “the tape will exonerate me, but I’m sorry anyway.” Bungie haven’t explicitly denied that they’re working on an MMO, but it looks as though last week’s confirmation was bogus.
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Play enough games, and at some point your mind is going to start creating your own. If you can program, if you can draw, maybe you can sit down and make them happen. If not, there are tools like GameMaker and Unity and the UDK to make them happen. But what if you’d been inspired before these modern marvels came along? What if you’d had a genius idea for your own 3D world back in 1991? Then maybe, just maybe, you’d have found the 3D Construction Kit (or Virtual Reality Studio) the answer to your prayers. If so, you’d be the only one. 3D Construction Kit was where your ambitions went to die.
Very rarely has such an awesome toy been this useless. And yes, awesome is the word. 3D Construction Kit offered incredible technology by the standards of the time, not simply on the PC, but on everything from the Amiga to the ZX Spectrum. It gave you a complete polygon based 3D engine, scripting, compilation tools, and more. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this official video to see the kind of experiences you too could dare to dream of one day creating. Beware! Your mind may be blown.
This VHS originally came with the 3D Construction Kit, and it’s notable for being a little… how can I put this tactfully… full of shit. Yes, you could indeed create a car. You wouldn’t however be able to drive it anywhere, or have other 3D cars on the track doing anything. You’ll note how the only movement you see the car doing is courtesy of the camera sweeping past it. There is a Reason. You could, in theory, create adventure games, but since your only interaction method was shooting stuff and banging into it, there wasn’t much scope for creating puzzles. You could create a 10,000 seater stadium, ignoring the lack of actual seats and such, but you had precisely zero chance of actually playing football in it.
Really, all you could do with the 3DCK was create very simplistic scenes, a few tiny bits of them moving or wobbling around, by painstakingly shoving every last primitive into place, and adding a bit of scripting to make bits move around a bit, vanish from the gameworld, or fire deadly lasers. As soon as you wanted to go beyond that, you were either out of luck or in a world of hurt. Usually both. I know many people who owned the 3DCK. I don’t know any who managed to put together an actual game with it.
In any toolkit, the demo project sets the tone. This was 3DCK’s (albeit running in a more updated version of the engine with a far higher resolution than the original’s 320×200). If you’re wondering what the game version of Inception is going to be like, consider this a surreal little preview. I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on, but as far as I can tell, your job is to buy scuba gear from an alien so that you can find a desert island that lets you bypass a vision of Satan in order to hump the Space Shuttle.
Suddenly my own life goals seem so… ordinary.
Despite being barely usable (and this was on PC – the 8-bit versions had single-digit framerates) for anything serious, 3DCK was an impressive release. It was ridiculously ahead of its time, for good or bad, and the first consumer level tool that really make playing with 3D seem cool. This was a couple of years before Doom, and even commercial 3D games of the time looked pretty terrible. 3DCK also had an excellent heritage. It was based on the Freescape engine, as made famous by games like Driller, Total Eclipse and Castle Master and while those names may not mean much now, they were justifiably well-regarded at the time. Technologically, anyway. As games, they were largely terrible.
Freescape was also (in a way, via its successor, Superscape) the engine that powered a truly ghastly TV show called Cyber Zone, about which YouTube has precisely one surviving clip. It came out two years after 3DCK, starring Craig Charles as himself and James Grout as Thesp, a virtual fat man who acted a little bit snooty. Knightmare, it was not. It wasn’t even Time Busters. Or Incredible Games.
Nothing about this show worked, not for a single solitary second. Despite trying far too hard to be futuristic and cyber and other nonsense that was embarassing even in 1993, it was instantly out-dated. The world may have been fully 3D, but it ran like a dog, and the interaction was barely more advanced for being professionally designed. One team ran on pressure pads to move around, go into rooms and solve incredibly clumsy puzzles that usually boiled down to shooting ducks or similarly embarrassingly simple stuff even by Crystal Maze standards, while the other got to drive or fly around the world and… pretty much just watch them. The set was all dark and trashy. The main world used in the show was a recreation of a boring modern town. The prize was Craig Charles asking the winner what they wanted, and when they said ‘a sports car’ or whatever, handing them a disk and saying there was a virtual one on there. Words can barely describe how toe-curling this show was. Luckily, a minute or so is enough.
(Craig Charles went on to host the even more painful Heaven and Hell, while the BBC inflicted the astoundingly dull Fightbox on the world. At least Time Commanders was pretty entertaining though, proving that you can make a decent TV show out of a game if you try…)
3D Construction Kit wasn’t a bad product. For the £25 or so it cost, or the £7 I originally bought it for, you weren’t really paying for a game creator tool, but a kind of game creator role-playing game. You may never have made anything with it, but that wasn’t the point. You could always have made something tomorrow, or next week, or in that even more nebulous world of ’some time in the future’. For most of us, that’s really no different to the tools available now. They’re simply better, easier to use, and permit humping the space station in glorious high-definition. Thank goodness. Anything else would be rubbish.
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Developer and founder of GDC Chris Crawford has been reminiscing on the old days of our beloved industry, looking back to the very first computers and how games have evolved over time. Has much changed? “What the player does has not changed in 30 years,” he said. Read on for more details.
Whilst things have not changed for the player, being a developer certainly has. “Back then to be a game programmer, you had to be a hero,” said Crawford. “You had to do everything! People in the game industry were basically working alone. We didn’t know each other.” This sense of isolation from the rest of the developer community convinced Crawford to establish GDC in 1988. “And it seems as though I’ve succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, because you are certainly not alone right now!” he joked.
“There was a lot of crap back then. Really bad games, but there was also a lot of diversity,” he said. Comparing them to modern titles, Crawford notes a distinct lack of variety in today’s games. “When you’re putting millions of dollars into a game, you can’t afford to be too creative.”
Crawford reminded his audience of his first law of software development: “Whenever you sit down to design a game, throughout the entire process, you must repeatedly ask yourself ‘What does the user do?’” He pointed out that since gamers play, rather than watch or listen, that the ‘doing’ is the most important aspect.
Crawford drew comparisons between old and new titles, noting that the core mechanics of platformers, shooters, and strategy games haven’t changed much. “What the player does has not changed in 30 years,” he said. “I want to be very careful here. I’m not saying that modern games are no better than ancient games,” he added.
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It must be hard to be a Guardsman. You’re standing around staring at an uncaptured control point and a box full of something called Requisition, and suddenly an Ork appears three inches from your face. His name is Spookums, he is wearing a pirate hat, and now he has exploded. You’re killed instantly – that’s one of the worst parts of the job – but Spookums is merely flung by his own explosion into a bush.
Luckily, Dawn of War 2: Retribution lets you be the Ork.
If you’d asked me before I played it, I would have told you Retribution was all about making Dawn of War 2 closer to a proper strategy game. It’s standalone, and where Dawn of War 2 was all about micromanaging just a handful of units, Retribution allows you to build up your force from the headquarters you capture midbattle. In theory, the big change is that you’re now commanding an army instead of leading a squad.
As it turns out, that’s not at all what Retribution is about. And thank God. You can build up an army, certainly, but almost every unit in it would have several manually activated abilities to deal with. Quickly and accurately ordering that number of units to use cover and activate their abilities is the kind of manual and mental torture test you could use to find out if you have a heart condition. Dawn of War’s interface, zoom level and controls just weren’t built for battles of that scale.
Yet Retribution is startlingly good – it’s the best Warhammer 40K game I’ve ever played. Because it’s not really about numbers, it’s about diversity. If you played Dawn of War 2 and its first expansion Chaos Rising, you’ve spent upwards of 30 hours controlling some combination of the same seven units. Retribution lets you choose between six different factions, with a total of around 70 squads, vehicles and heroes to play with. It’s a massive breath of fresh air.
Joy of six
There are six campaigns of around eight hours each, all playable in singleplayer or co-op. One of the six races is largely new to the game, the Imperial Guard, and they’re also playable in competitive multiplayer. Then there’s a new map and a new hero for Last Stand, the superb three-player cooperative survival mode Relic added to Dawn of War 2 in a free update. And if you’re interested in any of these ways to play it online, there’s the enormously welcome news that it now uses Steam for matchmaking and friends lists, instead of the horrific Games for Windows Live.
Frankly, the last time anyone went this nuts with an expansion was, well, Relic – with Dawn of War: Dark Crusade.
These aren’t six completely unique campaigns, admittedly. Play two and you’ll find they have about ten of their twelve missions in common, just slightly repurposed to fit a different plot. That only really hurts the early missions: the first three are overly long and overly scripted tutorials, and replaying them as each new race gets painful.
But once you do fight through them, you have enough experience points to start customising your heroes, and that’s where Retribution suddenly turns around.
Dawn of War 2 was one great fight, repeated. You set up your heavy weapons in cover, snuck your scout in to snipe a prime target, tanked them with your commander, and jumpjetted your assault guys onto the enemy’s strongest shooters. It was satisfying, but by and large it was the same every time. It was often the same map every time.
Retribution comes up with five new formulae, composed of the same basic elements of stealth, suppression, jumps, melee and damage types. Formulae that evolve as you decide how to upgrade each hero, what you equip them with, and how you want to use them.
It’s still tactical and manually intensive – you need to move each hero individually and activate the right abilities just when you need them, preferably with hotkeys. You can bench heroes in return for a free squad or vehicle and an increased army size limit in the field. But for most races, each hero plays such an important role that it’s hard to see why anyone would.
So for the most part, you slip into playing Retribution much as you did Dawn of War 2: four heroes, each with special abilities that mix with each other in excitingly brutal ways. I added a few heavy weapons squads to support my biggest gunner, and the occasional vehicle when I could afford it, then spent the rest of my money on upgrading and reviving my heroes.
I mentioned the Orks earlier: as well as the commando/commander switcheroo (where Spookums can swap positions with Bludflagg), their ranged specialist Nailbrain is ridiculous. He can teleport into battle, and one of his perks causes him to explode every time he does anything. So when he teleports, he also explodes, flooring everyone. He can then turn on his force field so that incoming damage will drain energy rather than health when everyone gets back up. This causes him to explode. Damage taken to his forcefield also charges his static blast, an ability that causes him to explode. And since it is an ability, it also causes him to explode. In addition to the explosion.
That part of the Ork’s combat formula is a result of the way I’d specced my Nailbrain. Each hero of each race has three stats: health, damage and energy. Those can be upgraded from zero to five, and almost every upgrade comes with some ability or perk that changes the way the hero works. The static explosion is a perk for upgrading Nailbrain’s damage to level 3.
I was rude about Guardsmen earlier, and I will be rude about the rest of the Imperial Guard later, but for what it’s worth they do have a formula of their own. The Lord General is a terribly British chap who can call in free reinforcements for squads who’ve lost men. The Commissar is a more sinister officer who can spur a squad to fight harder by shooting one of them – not that the Imperial Guard need any help getting themselves killed.
I like to have my Commissar use Execute on a Stormtrooper to kickstart that squad’s damage output, then cast Draw Their Fire on my General, forcing enemies to attack him instead. The behatted Inquisitor can then cast a protective shield on the General so he survives the onslaught. And after the fight, he can have a new stormtrooper dropped off to make up their numbers so we can do it all again. They’re not going to make the Fortune 100 for best places to work, but it’s satisfyingly effective.
In fact, a sadistic number of the Commissar’s upgrades revolve around his Execute ability, including a perk which lets you use it on enemy squads to demoralise them. Nice, but at that point aren’t you just shooting the enemy? Is that really something that needs to be unlocked?
Heroes of chaos
The units, heroes and abilities of the Chaos faction are split between three of their four gods. The god of destruction is represented by a heavy weapons marine, the god of magic and change has a chaos sorcerer on the team, and the god of disease gets a brilliant muckspreading Plague Marine as his representative.
Kinky porno-god Slaanesh doesn’t get a hero – he’s always been the black sheep even in a family of pitchblack bloodgargling daemon deathsheep who burn in perpetual agony with the searing fires of the warp. Instead, your commander is a Chaos Champion who can choose his allegiance: each branch of his level-up tree serves a different Chaos God. I levelled up his health, enabling him to channel disease-god Nurgle in what is presumably Relic’s idea of irony.
As well as the usual tanking abilities, this changes the way your Chaos Cultists minions work. With Nurgle, they can worship on the battlefield to heal nearby Chaos units, and even build shrines that can then summon reinforcements from the warp. If I’d leant towards Khorne, shrines would periodically spew out daemons, while Tzeentch shrines cloak your units and fire doombolts at enemies.
But the highlight of the Chaos roster is the Plague Marine. He can spread a disease that heals Chaos units and rots enemies, and even ‘detonate’ the infection to wipe out a whole squad in an instant – or bring a pestilent friend back from the brink of death. A whole set of late-tier abilities cause the enemies he kills to come back as Nurgly diseasezombies. One of the most beautiful sights in the game is this guy squirting his horrible plague spreader into a fortified bunker, corpses falling out of the windows, then getting back up again and joining in the siege as zombies.
There are so many wonky and exotic options in the new races that it’s hard to imagine someone picking the Space Marines. But that campaign is kept relatively fresh in a clever way. Rather than bringing back the increasingly corrupt band of increasingly crazy brothers we’ve been playing in the last two games, we get a new team with only one familiar face. Their commander is similar and their scout is the same, but they now have a Tech Marine hero who’s all about deployables. And their fourth member, called simply The Ancient, can be specced to play any of three heroes’ roles you fancy: heavy weapons if you level up his damage, jumpjet assault if you level up his energy, or tactical tank if you level up his health. It’s a smart way of saying “Who did you like in the last game?”
Surprisingly, the weakest campaign is for the most potentially interesting race: the Tyranids. They only get one hero, who can summon a few free units on the field without the need of a base. But the limiting factor on your army is almost never the expense, it’s your population capacity. Summoned units consume that just as much as the ones you requisition at a beacon, so that whole set of abilities is effectively moot.
Without three other heroes to level up, there are few interesting interactions between Tyranid units. You don’t have the dopamine drip of constantly unlocking exciting upgrades, and there are no tough decisions to make between missions. Loot is rare and poorly judged – almost everything I found required a minimum level I wouldn’t reach until four or five missions later. Even the units seem poorly judged: I never found any combination as effective as massing the low-level Tyranid Warriors – tough, fast, cheap, and good against everything. They render the whole campaign easy, even on Hard.
The other bum note is the Imperial Guard campaign. They have some fun abilities, as mentioned, and it’s still worth playing if you’re after a challenge. But it’s a challenge not because the missions are harder, but because the race is a walking catalogue of inadequacies. The tactics that work – such as using your fragile melee units to bait enemies into large groups of heavy weapon emplacements – are the tactics that work for every race. The Imperial Guard’s twist is that they don’t have anything else.
Still, four great campaigns is impressive – it’s three better than Chaos Rising managed. And as usual, they can all be played with two players. That’s the other time requisitioning extra units in the field feels useful: controlling only two heroes each, you have the control bandwidth to take on a few more squads and use them well.
When Dan Stapleton and I played the Chaos campaign together, I tried benching my Sorcerer and taking the Dreadnought instead. It was fun to be able to requisition some cultists to follow it around and repair it, and easy to manage. Resources are shared, so generally you’ll check with each other before buying anything. It makes the individual missions more fun, particularly on harder difficulties. The only drawback is that however many units you build in the field, each of you only has two heroes to level up, so there are fewer interesting long-term decisions to make about kit and abilities.
The adversarial multiplayer is mostly unchanged, except for the addition of the Imperial Guard to the playable race roster. They’re a fine faction for it, since their vehicles are easier to come by than in singleplayer, but the design of the mode itself is still completely unsatisfying.
It has almost nothing to do with actually killing your enemy’s forces – any squad in jeopardy can flee at ridiculous speed to their headquarters to heal. In Victory Point mode, it’s just a game of weaponised musical chairs over three control points, and an early lead almost always means victory. Once you’re ahead, you only have to hold one control point to win, while your enemy has to take that from you while holding both of the other two.
Annihilation mode is better – you have to destroy each other’s bases – but it just takes hours to get the huge economic and military advantage you need to overcome the powerful home advantage a player has at his base. Most games drag out in an interminable stalemate.
Last Stand was always more successful: three of you control one hero each and slay waves of incoming enemies until you die – and level up. The new hero, the Imperial Guard’s Lord General, starts weak but suddenly becomes fun once he unlocks the ability to deploy turrets – the best of which is vast and absurd. The new map, bringing the total to two, is absurd in the other direction: frantic, desperate and brutal from the very first wave. Both additions work primarily because the mode itself is so smartly designed and endlessly replayable.
Dawn of War 2: Retribution is such a beast of an expansion that there’s room for some of its elements to fail without adversely affecting the ones that work – those being the four great campaigns, whether you play them alone or with a friend. For those alone, this is an essential purchase for anyone who enjoyed Dawn of War 2’s tightly focused tactical scraps – even if they were sick of them by the end. It’s a complete revitalisation of that format, and more fun than Dawn of War 2 ever was. Just don’t go in expecting a game that’s slickly designed for large scale conflicts, because that’s not where Retribution shines.
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The countdown timer that started last Friday was first assumed to be for Modern Warfare 3. Then it was destroyed by Activision, claiming it was a hoax. Now we have new information: the countdown is ticking towards the reveal of a Modern Warfare ‘inspired’ project. Read on for the details.
The new information comes courtesy of Spike TV journalist Geoff Keighley, who has done some digging and revealed that the countdown was created by We Can Pretend, a team from Toronto working on a Call of Duty inspired project. Keighley said that “production sources who worked on the self-funded project call it visually spectacular.”
The guys over at Joystiq have done some digging of their own, and have been sent a teaser image from the project, which can be seen here. It’s clearly some kind of real-life footage, indicating the that most likely end result is that ‘Find Makarov’ is a short film, possibly connected to the Modern Warfare story line.
We’ll just have to wait for complete clarification, which according to the countdown comes on March 2.
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GameSpy are making their technology tools available to some users completely free of charge during an extended beta period. The GameSpy Open software will have it’s basic elements and features available to budding developers, enabling them to make titles without the high costs normally associated with game development. Read on for more details.
The scheme ensures that indie developers will not pay anything for the programming tools until their title accumulates a certain number of unique users per month, meaning aspiring developers with little funds can still start working on their big ideas without having to stump up a lot of cash first.
The GameSpy Open tools support cross-platform interaction, allowing developers to make games that work across every device, using the same programming system. This will mean developers can make games not only for the PC, but one that works across other formats including iOS devices, Android devices and the PlayStation 3. GameSpy singles out Dungeon Defenders as an example of how the company’s technology has proved successful.
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In a shocking twist for Age of Empires Online, original developer Robot Entertainment is out, and Chris Taylor and his Gas Powered Games crew (of Supreme Commander Fame) are in. GPG has picked up where Robot left off, and will carry Microsoft’s free-to-play real-time strategy game to completion. What exactly happened to prompt this switcharoo is unclear, and Microsoft probably isn’t too eager to share, but we’ll be poking around for details at today’s Microsoft Showcase event.
We’re all big fans of GPG’s work, and Taylor is a known fan of Ensemble’s classic Age of Empires II, so this seems like a good fit. In fact, Taylor cited AoEII as one of his all-time favorite RTS games when I talked to him about GPG’s now-on-hold fantasy RTS Kings & Castles last year – I suppose this explains why Taylor’d be willing to set that project aside to work on an AOE game.
Update: Robot Entertainment President Patrick Hudson called to clear up the mystery. Read on for his side of the story.
PCG: What happened with AoEO?
Patrick Hudson: We were always scheduled to roll off Age Online in February 2011. We’ve been working with GPG since last fall on the transition. We really enjoyed working with Microsoft, and know that they’re in good hands with Chris and the Gas Powered Games team.
Robot was founded to work on original IP, but working with AoE was a great way to get the company off the ground. The plan was always to move to original IP as soon as we had the ability focus on our core business goal.
PCG: Isn’t it unusual for one developer to start a project and then hand it off?
PH: I guess it’s unusual, but as the game has evolved it’s turned into a platform for a lot of content. We developed the game and the first two civilizations, the Egyptians and the Greeks, and GPG is taking it from there. That was always the plan when we started the company.
We’re now working on shipping our first original game, Orcs Must Die! and will be announcing additional projects that we have in the works in the near future. That’s ours, we’ll stick with that one forever.
So it looks like this story isn’t quite as scandalous as it first appeared, but still a pretty unusual occurrence in game development, and certainly great news for Gas Powered Games fans. We’ll be talking to Chris Taylor about his plans for Age of Empires Online very soon.
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Today, we talk with DC Universe Online’s Game Director Chris Cao about character creation, future Power Sets being added to the game and how the development team had to choose between quality and quantity in development. If you’re playing DCUO as much as we are, be sure to read the earlier parts of the interview, where Chris talks with us about animation glitching and developer priorities and the planned monthly content updates (hint: Penguin’s coming!), and tune in each day this week for more insight into our current favorite MMO.
PCG: A few of my comic book-savvy friends are upset that they can’t perfectly recreate a character like Superman or Flash because the game’s six power sets don’t really match those characters. Do see that as a problem that needs to be addressed or is it just a side effect of turning a comic book universe into a fun MMO?
Chris Cao: I know there are a lot of people who want to make a specific character, maybe you have a character concept in your head. There are other comic hero MMOs that create power sets that have no powers because it lets people do certain things. We are looking at it, but what it comes down to is that there are two types of people playing DCUO: those who want to create a specific character concept and that’s more important than the game play or cosmetic variety, and those who want rocking gameplay and abilities that tie together. That’s the spectrum: I don’t think players are one way or the other, you’re somewhere between that.
For us, the developers, we’re staying towards the gameplay more than anything, because adding a new Power type is the biggest change we can make in the game. A new power type affects literally everything we do. So our options are either give you a Power set that really isn’t very different because that’s the only safe way to add to it (giving you something that you already have and put different effects on it). Those character concept guys [want that sort of thing]: they’re like, “I don’t care if it’s different, at least cosmetically, I can get more into my character.”
The other alternative (on the gameplay-leaning side) is to say, “Hey, if we’re going to add more powers (and we will), let’s do it as totally different powers that feel different and provide different gameplay choices.” I think our weapons show how different we try to make things. Two-handed feels very different than Bow or Dual-wield and the rest. We’re trying to strike that balance [between new types and truly different types], and I think we’re always leaning on the gameplay side of those options. I’m not trying to stretch the answer out, but it’s really about different people playing the game and a lot of different points of expectation that they’re going to have. And we are always going to err on the side of things that makes the gameplay rock and gives it tactical combos and tactical multiplayer choices, rather than just trying to satisfy a player’s specific type of hero/villain concept.
One particular case is the Superman and Wonder Woman thing: they have power with no powers. We have their powers in the system, its just people want it called something else. We have Brawling in the game, and if you want to punch guys and smack things around, take the Brawling power set and Super Strength skill and you’re doing the Superman thing. Yes, you may have to pick Ice as a Power set, because we made a balanced system where everyone has a weapon, power, and movement mode. But if you want to get into that debate: we do have flexibility in our system. You can role play Superman no problem. You don’t have to use the Ice powers that are offered to you for tanking and those sort of things. You can mix your Power and Skill points, but its fundamentally a MMO, and that means it needs to play well as a multiplayer game with roles and abilities. That’s always going to be our first foot forward. On the cosmetic side, we’ll always try to put stuff in for it, but its gotta work as a game first.
PCG: The iconic powers that everyone can access seems to be a good container for things like Superman’s laser eyes and Wonder Woman’s lasso.
CC: If you made a system that was perfect on the customization side, it would fall onto the gameplay side because they are at odds. You can choose one or the other. Really, DCUO’s the kind of game you want to play and we want to make it fun to play with your friends as well as give you the cosmetic side of it, but that’s secondary.
PCG: As far as adding new powers in the future, the most obvious one currently missing is the Green Lantern’s light powers. You could also do Cyborg’s techno-augmentation. Are there any power sets that aren’t implemented yet, that you peronsally want to see added sometime in the future?
CC: Designing power types based on one specific hero or villain is the main paradox in making a superhero MMO–if you’re making a game that only has one main hero: like a Superman game or Batman game, its probably less of a problem, because the abilities are customized to that character. But anytime you create something that’s more broad (like a power set in DCUO): your inspiration is specific, but your results have to be general.
Superman is a great example: he breaks all the rules. He’s super strong and super smart (he’s actually an incredible scientist). His story is full of alien technology, heat vision, cold breath, all of the sonic clap abilities, the pounding and ripping, and everything else that goes on. He’s a very specific case that people identify with and if you’re making a game about Superman, you can replicate those abilities one for one. If you’re making a system of abilities [for players to pick and choose from to build their own character] you have to generalize and ask yourself, “OK, what bucket does this ability fall into?” Like th Ice power set in our game: ice is actually two sets of powers (all of the power sets are broken up into two main buckets of abilities). And even though they’re different from each other, they are not radically different, so we put them in the same bucket so, anybody who has elemental-like powers will be using, at the start, either Ice or Fire.
The Bee Knee’s wardrobe for this episode was provided by GAP.
PCG: Did any power sets get cut during development?
We tested Earth internally, but we couldn’t make it different from those two just yet, and we didn’t want to put some kind of brown ice out there, so we put it on hold. It wasn’t cut, but personally I would love to add Light. We’re actually talking right now adding Light. It has a fiction and a lore–especially with the movies upcoming, there’s a lot of support–and when we do it, we want to make sure it’s cool and not just, “We colored some other abilities or we changed the particle effects.”
I think this is pretty key to our game and what’s interesting about it: there are other MMOs, superhero or not, where fidelity is traded for variety directly. You get something that’s lower fidelity because you get more of it. It goes back to your earlier question: Do you want fidelity or variety? Obviously everyone wants both. I think a lot of times, MMOs pretend to promise both. In an action game, [a type of combat or game feature] means something completely different fidelity-wise, and when in an MMO, players [may make the excuse] and go, “Oh, well ,that fidelity isn’t there because they had to make so much of it.” Whatever we put in DCUO, we’re going to put it in carefully and we’re gonna make sure it has its own value. Whether it’s another power tech or weapon–whatever we add, you can be sure that it will make a totally different experience. We figured as long as you like the existing game, we can build more over time. But we’ll only get that once chance to make a good first impression, and if two of our powers are too alike, you’re going to think that we cheaped out.
PCG: Do you think there’s room for more weapon types to be added as well?
CC: Totally. We had 15 or so weapons that we played around with in development and we boiled it down to 9. In some cases, we did stuff creatively–like we had this Wand weapon type that’s a little bit like a Harry Potter superhero. And while it was cool and there are characters in the DC universe that used wands, we just couldn’t come up with enough badass combos. At a certain point, the guy with the wand is bicycle kicking and back flipping. It just didn’t work. So the quality-over-quantity thing came into play and we said “OK, lets boil down”.
Another example is we had Single Pistol in for a while, instead of Dual Pistols because there are a lot of DC characters that use just a single pistol. Again, we looked at it and ask ourselves, “Whats cooler? OK, dual pistols it is.” And how different are single pistols going to be from dual? We thought our time was better spent making a Two-Handed weapon type or making a Hand Blaster that will really be radically different [from anything else], rahter than making a Single Pistol.
A good example [of making weapon types feel unique] is Martial Arts vs Brawling. They’re different, but both are hand-to-hand. So really, we wanted to be different. We wanted you to be cool because, there’s a lot of weapons and powers that we give you, in addition, there’s a lot of cool stuff in movement types. Like the Flash is a great example. A lot of the Flash’s abilities come from Super Speed, not a power type. If you try to re-make Flash in DCUO, you’re gonna be bigger and better in a lot of cases, because you are gong to have more options.
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Some pirates have parrots, but I prefer a pack of gem-hunting kobolds to boss around and scour the earth to fill my coffers with shiny booty. And that’s what I’m doing in the pirate-themed events of Dungeon & Dragons Online’s fifth anniversary (which hits live servers this Thursday). My pirate gear is on and I’m joining other bands of pirate players to squeeze the treasure out of every chest I find, just like we did when it all began in the game’s first dungeon, five years ago.
The pirate haven of Smuggler’s Rest was the first dungeon players entered back when DDO launched. Back then, players scratched out an existence as they inched towards the level cap dungeon by dungeon, while paying fifteen bucks a month to do so. Today, the game’s much improved and more flexible as a free-to-play offering. Which is great, because anyone–DDO vets or brand new players–can jump in for the big anniversary event and fight through the original starting area of Smuggler’s Rest for a pirate adventure filled with treasure hunts and kobold-commanding, piratey action.
A pirate just isn’t a pirate without some sort of sweet headwear; which is where DDO’s 5th-anniversary, doubloon-hungry mission begins. Existing characters receive a voucher good for one piece of upgradeable head gear, which you can select from a slew of specialized looks and stats (the higher level your character, the higher the hat’s stats will be) to help increase your chance of finding treasure as you progress. Newer players don’t get thrown in the brig, however–the hats can be earned by participating in the event or purchasing them from the cash shop, along with the other eight new pirate-like Appearance kits (items that change the look of your armor) added to the the DDO Store for the event. As a veteran player myself, I immediately donned a feather-capped hat fit for my weathered sea dog.
Now that I look the part, it’s time to play it. I immediately bump into a familiar face from the original release, Euphonia Teles, who sends me out into the misty jungle bordering a small, ship-packed cove. My first mission (to slay buccaneers and scallywags in the search for doubloons and treasure maps) rewards me with even more treasure. It isn’t long before I’m up to my chest in bugbear body parts, sending foe after foe straight to Davy Jones Locker with my scimitar. My stack of map pieces and dubloons is getting higher, and the map pieces are beginning to bestow quests that point me in the direction of other hidden caches of doubloons and gems. I head back to Euphonia and exchange my newly-acquired doubloons for more shiny goods from Euphonia’s Barter Box, a chest packed with pirate-themed shwag for players of all levels.
Once the players on your server have turned in enough maps, the second part of the Jolly Roger adventure unlocks: a unique dungeon, aptly named Crystal Cove. I tear into the dungeon, ready to slay anything that looks piratey enough to have treasure (or not piratey enough to be an easy kill). It’s a pleasant surprise to find the dungeon stepping away from traditional DDO experiences and mixing it up with a gem-collecting fight that contained loose RTS elements and treasure-fueled crystal grabs in between the undead-pirate killing.
One quest has me guiding kobold minions through a dreary mine in search of the oh-so-shiny crystals. But to increase my chances of success, I have to risk some of the crystals I’ve collected in exchange for various tools that help the kobolds find more crystals further down the dungeon. I purchase some extra minions and pick up a few torches to guide kobolds. I use the torches to link pathways between crystal nodes hidden in the depths of the cavern. This isn’t Snow White and the Seven Kobolds though: a few minutes in, the kobolds cry out “INCOMING” and suddenly I’m surrounded by buccaneers and skeletons trying to kill my little dirty miners. No one beats my minions but me! I jump into the fray, hacking and slashing at everything that moves until my kobolds can get back to making me rich.
The dungeon only requires your kobolds to collect 100 crystals (it doesn’t take as long as you’d think), and you can keep any extra you collect and exchange them for bonus rewards from Euphonia’s Barter Box. The rewards include potions, upgradeable weapons and other various level-appropriate items for players of all levels, some of which are incredibly powerful.
The entire event is filled with typical DDO action, made even more interesting by having to juggle crystal resources and kobold minion management while you fight. The random nature of the crystal and enemy spawns makes Crystal Cove repeatable for those that simply must have all the event’s rewards–whether you want to run it as an individual or organized group.
Overall, I was really pleased with the event–it’s a great way to showcase how far the game’s development and gameplay has come in five years.The NPCs also sport some refreshingly humorous dialogue and the kobolds are about the funniest characters to date in the game, constantly screaming out ridiculous phrases and insider jokes meant for veteran players.
And it’s not all looking backwards: Crystal Cove introduces a new mechanic for the game: scaling the difficulty of your dungeon to a specific level. Design Director Ian Currie and Producer Erik Boyer tell me this feature will be used in future events to help give the game even more flexibility and assure that any player can find adequate challenges and rewards, regardless of their level. If you haven’t ever tried DDO, I highly recommend jumping in and trying out this 5th anniversary content. It’s some of the most modern content in the game, there’s crazy hats and it’s completely free.
If you have some fun and decide to stick around for awhile (no pressure–it’s a free-to-play game afterall), you’ll have some sweet gear to help you get started: most of these rewards can be upgraded several times, so you can extend the life of the loot long after the event has ended.
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The Command and Conquer site was recently updated with news that a sequel is currently in production at EA’s new strategy game studio, Victory Games. It was also announced that creator of Might and Magic, Jon Van Caneghem is heading up the project.
The site has since gone down, but not before Voodoo Extreme had captured the short Q&A with Van Caneghem. He says “I can tell you it’s a Command & Conquer game for the PC, but we’re not yet at a stage where I can go into any details—we’ll be prepared to make a more formal announcement later in the year. We’re not just working on a game, though. Our general focus is on the future of Command & Conquer. That means updating a lot of the core technology to create a stable base for future development, and leveraging that work on this first game.”
With a new development team at the reins, Command and Conquer might just be able to bounce back from the disappointment that was Command & Conquer 4. Would you buy a new Command & Conquer game?
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Last week, I had the opportunity to interview DCUO’s Game Director Chris Cao. We talked about everything from what bugs the dev team is focusing on fixing first, March’s big update, future power and weapon sets being added to the game and if they’re planning to add mod support for the PC version. We’ll be releasing a new portion of the interview every day this week up through Friday! Today we talk with Chris about what the dev team’s top priorities are right now and what’s really going on with major bugs like animation glitching.
PCG: What do you see as the top priorities for the dev. team to address?
Chris Cao: Well, I can tell you that we don’t’ spend a lot of time making a list–we just start working on fixing problems. Right now we’re actually working on chat actively and we released some more fixes this last weekend and early Friday morning [to help improve the stability of chat on live servers]…. We’ve found that [the problems with chat] have been very population-dependent. Because our leagues are so big (like I’m in a league that has 750 people in it) its’ basically stressing our systems so we had to put in more tech to make sure that that whole thing works.
Voice chat is the same thing. We’ve done a bunch of changes there, but there are more coming in the February update. Communication is the number one thing. for us right now. Actually to that point, as a part of the March update, we’re re-designing the social pane and moving a lot of aspects currently in the social menu out onto the quick menu, so that they’re much easier to get to, instead of it being buried in the PDA.
Grouping is fun, but it could definitely be easier to get started.
Basically, right now, the thing that’s making everything not work or more annoying is the chat and communication. Right after that, is grouping and group queuing. The queuing logic that we have in there right now, we actually had hot fixes go out for it–I think it was Friday again. We’re starting to address these issues. We tried out a configuration for launch which favored Duo Modes over Alerts–it let Duos suck up all the available cues instead of letting more of the alerts show up. We’re looking at re-balancing that right now. [Balancing that sort of thing] is just a matter of finding out what people like to do and whose using what. We’re also adding in logic that makes sure that incomplete or dead instances get killed off faster, because they are also taking way too long right now.
So those are the two biggest things, because (1) If you can’t talk to people, it isn’t an MMO. And (2) If you can’t do things easily with other people then, that’s an issue. Now of course, there are lots of issues. Like we sped up the load time on the PS3 for a lot of menus which will speed it up on the PC even faster. That’s just basic usability stuff. That’s the thing: we have a great fun game, but there are some bugs and stuff that’s making it hard to use, and that’s really what we are focusing on more than anything.
And of course adding more stuff for everybody to do, but the focus is really split between making it easier to group and easier to see whats going on. Swapping group loot and cycle stance, which is a minor thing, but you look for group loot a lot more often than you cycle stance. So it’s those little things. We’re playing end game, we’re playing the leveling game, trying to get those things that we just want to smooth out and not like a rough edge to you.
PCG: That’s a lot of the changes that I, personally, was hoping to hear you mention.
CC: Yea, and there’s a ton of other fixes going in there, like in some cases, there were duos where you could get locked out of a boss fight. There are a ton of that type of changes going in. We usually don’t wait for the [major monthly] updates for those, because its server side. We actually change that stuff as fast as we can. If it involves physical assets that we have to do in the game, though, then we have to patch those and we wait for the update for that.
I could really use some help right about now… guys? Anyone?
PCG: Another major problem that you didn’t mention is the animation glitching that people are seeing in PVP, which lets cheaters chain together a crazy number of abilities. Is it going to be difficult to fix that? Is that even fixable?
CC: Well we’re actually trying to find out what’s going on, to be honest, because what’s interesting is that what people are calling “animation glitching” [isn't really a bug at all]–it’s inherent to our system. It’s complicated to explain, so let me know if it comes across. Our system allows you to interweave weapon combos with abilities in your ability tray. That means that, in some cases, your ability tray needs to override your combo animation. In other words, if you gotta heal, you gotta heal right now because someone is about to die. So what we do is actually cut off the animation you were doing with your combo, and just instantly play the healing animation.
So sometimes people see what looks like a “glitch animation” which is actually our fail safe for when you need to heal or when you need to taunt or when you need to stun right away. We’re gonna override our own animation and make sure that that ability gets played, [but it's not resulting in additional attacks]. The reason I bring that up is that this issue has actually grown [out of proportion] in peoples’ heads in the community, because we didn’t communicate well that “Yes, our system actually does allow inner animations to get interrupted.” Now at the same time, we’ve been watching the YouTube videos and doing detective work to figure out how the guys are doing 20 attacks a second. We’ve actually found in some cases that its a data problem, because we’ve allowed abilities to continue through [weapon attacks].
If I were animation-glitching, I might actually be winning.
So we fix some of those. We also have cheat detection which I won’t go into the details on how we do it. But we’ve been logging and learning a lot of that stuff and fixing it back end on our side. In an MMO, you are always racing against the people. The game’s evolving in both gameplay and technologically, we have our logging in place and are applying fixes (which I won’t talk about specifically, but we are addressing these types of glitches). We don’t seem to have anything duplicating what we saw in beta, where we had a few exploits like the track and field ones or the specific one with the Amazonian gauntlets where you could stack stuff up.
Obviously, when you’re in PvP and you get unfairly ganked, it’s one of the most emotional things that can happen. That’s just gonna piss you off. But what’s happening right now is that I’ve been playing a ton of PVP and I’ve never had [animation glitching] happen to me; and I’m on a pvp server! Obviously, this is anecdotal, but what I have seen is people calling out what I already do (which are my normal combos and abilities) and call that glitching.
The way to really tell if someone is glitching is to look in your combat log. If you see that you got hit repeatedly by someone in a span of time–instantaneously twenty or thirty times or constantly dodging or rolling–that’s the exploit that we are hammering down on. We’ve already done a bunch of fixes on it, but because of our combination of systems, we gotta make sure we’re covering all the holes. We don’t have them all yet but we are working on it.
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Despite their first game in the franchise’s reboot reciving lukewarm reviews, Danger Close are developing a second game in the modern-day-set Medal of Honor series.
Producer Greg Goodrich revealed in a blog post entitled “In case you were wondering…”: “Yes, Danger Close is currently working on the next Medal of Honor.”
Goodrich went on to say: “Since our launch last October, we’ve studied, listened and absorbed much of your feedback and are very excited to be marching forward on the next title. We can’t wait to tell you more about it, so check back often to the website and the fan page on Facebook.
“It’s going to be a fun ride for the Medal of Honor franchise. We are happy to have you aboard.”
Whilst Danger Close had already announced it was recruiting for a new AAA FPS title, speculation had been than the EA studio would be working on a different franchise. Tonight’s confirmation demonstrates that even in the face of it’s ridiculously high-selling rival Call of Duty, Medal of Honor still plans to persevere.
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Vice President of Bethesda Softworks Pete Hines has issued a challenge to potential parents everywhere. If your child is born on the game’s release date – 11/11/11 – and you name them Dovahkiin – the protagonist’s title – you will receive… an unknown reward. He adds that Friday was the optimal time to conceive if you wish your child will be born on that day and therefore eligible to win a prize.
The quest was announced on the Bethesda blog, with an entertaining disclaimer and a mock screenshot.
“Any reward for completing this quest will not ultimately justify the potential teasing your child could — and probably will — endure over its lifespan. Bethesda Softworks is not responsible for your parenting. You may gain experience points for completing this quest, but you will not care at 3am on a work night. Completion of this quest may also result in decreased desire to play video games and/or function as a human being. Consult with your friends before embarking on this quest; while it may not start in prison, it probably ends there.”
Dovahkiin means dragonborn in Skyrim’s made up dragon language. In the game, this language is imbued with magical power, and can be used in Dragon Shouts to attack enemies. This is not the case on playgrounds or in real life. For naming your child that, you’d expect horse armour at the very least.
For more on Skyrim, grab a copy of the latest issue of PC Gamer UK for our massive preview feature.
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In a world of clones and copycats, it’s worth remembering that every idea was once new.
Whether it’s Richard Garriott turning himself into the world’s first cosplayer by showing up at conventions dressed as his alter-ego Lord British, or Westwood inventing the RTS in Dune II, these are the moments that defined the games we play today. On PC, anyway. Herzog Zwei? What’s that?
But what about some of the more obscure firsts? Who made games talk? Who made film ratings part of our industry? Which FPS first came up with the idea of mixing driving and shooting, in much the same way that the genius who first combined salt and vinegar crisps and broken up pieces of Kit-Kat created the most delicious snack of our age? That is the question.
We’ve gone back into the archives in search of the geniuses, the dreamers, the designers and games that proved there were still ideas left to explore – just as today’s designers continue to prove how much more can be done.
First Easter Egg
The very first secret little programmer’s joke was in Atari’s Adventure in 1979, which let you walk through a wall to see the writer’s name. Awesome. The first game to become infamous for its easter egg was SimCopter (1996), where a prankster programmer filled the streets with kissing men in Speedos on his birthday. And assorted other dates, as it turned out. His career lasted about five seconds after it was discovered.
First Virtual Score
Graphics not good enough for sexy funtime? Don’t worry, there’s always text… but if you can get excited about a trip to Granny’s Place (1983) or Sierra’s Softporn Adventure (1981), you probably don’t need even that much. Really, ‘Granny’s Place?’ Even if you’re a girl, that’s a Grade-A erection killer. Other early games weren’t any sexier. Atari owners got stuff like Beat Em And Eat Em and Bachelor Party. PC owners had to get aroused by the cyan and magenta of, er, Astrotit.
The first graphical bonk of note was with the hooker in Leisure Suit Larry (1987), which was more a parody than a remake of Softporn Adventure. Even then, the action is completely hidden behind a big bouncing CENSORED sign. It did however teach our young minds much, notably that condoms are known as ‘lubbers’ in America (supposedly), and that having sex without knowing this means your cock will explode two screens later. And in the game.
In the old days, games came on floppy disks and floppy disks didn’t have enough space for speech. Adventure games in particular jumped on the chance to upgrade to CD. Sierra cut its teeth with King’s Quest V (1990) while LucasArts revamped Loom (1992). Other games, such as the first Tex Murphy game Mean Streets (1989), had little clips, but Sierra had the edge with the first full talkie.
First Life Simulator
Covered on the site before, Alter Ego (1986) came in two forms – one for men, one for women. By making decisions, you steered yourself from birth to death in the most depressing game ever made. “This episode awards those currently working who have contributed Sierra’s early games used employee voices. significantly to their vocations over the course of a lifetime. You have not achieved this kind of success,” was a typical boot to the face of your selfworth. Winning meant realising all existence was meaningless misery, humiliation, pain, and lonely twilight years regretting your squandering of the precious gift of existence. GAME OVER.
First Driveable Vehicles (In An On-Foot FPS)
If you’re thinking Terminator: Future Shock (1995), half-credit. That was the first game to make jumping into a vehicle awesome, but the original The Terminator (1991) made it happen. As either Kyle escorting Sarah, or Arnie hunting her down, you had an open world to fight in, vehicles to steal, and a seriously ambitious game to play.
Ignoring vehicle-based games such as Battlezone, credit usually goes to Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. This was actually id’s second FPS. The first was 1991’s Catacomb-3D, which later spawned the slightly better known Catacomb Abyss. Edging in just before all of them though was Core Design’s Corporation (1990), which also featured RPG elements, and the option to send the developers a photo and star in the game personally.
First Banned Game
Only a couple of games have actually been banned in the UK, most famously Manhunt 2, which got the world up in arms despite the fact that pretty much no gamers gave a toss about it. Before that and Grand Theft Auto had their faces on the moral majority’s punching bag, the big PC videogame nasty was Carmageddon. This splatterfest of a driving game from 1997 taught us much, not least that running over pedestrians is wrong, but smacking into greenblooded zombies is perfectly acceptable (except in Germany, where the zombies were switched for floating tin can robots).
However, while only four games have been banned over here, many have seen smaller snips. 3D Realms’ Shadow Warrior (1997) is easily the most ridiculous, with its ninja character having to switch his trusty shuriken for darts due to fear that kids might throw deadly metal stars at each other, instead of nice, safe, impossible to get hold of… darts. Thanks, guys. You saved the world that day.
The original multiplayer online RPGs were the text-based MUDs, which date back to the start of the ’80s. Graphical, massively multiplayer questing started much later, with 1996’s Meridian 59. While very simple, the basic concepts stayed much the same for everything from EverQuest (1999) through to World of Warcraft, despite the far more ambitious functional-world offered by Ultima Online (1997). Not until EVE Online (2003) would anyone come close to trying that again.
Forget all those Lara-come-latelies, girls have been doing it for themselves in games since at least… ooh… the mid-’80s. Ignoring sidekicks, NPCs and console lasses like Samus Aran (1986) in favour of playable PC characters, the most talked about is always Princess Rosella of 1988’s King’s Quest IV – who saves her father by assembling a cure in a typically lethal Roberta Williams-designed adventure. But she only gets second place. Leading the way is Amy Briggs’ text-based pirate yarn Plundered Hearts, from 1987, making roughly the 75th entry on our list from Infocom.
As for action heroines in the Lara mould (no, not those moulds), there were a few early on, but all of the Amazonian bikini model variety. Vixen’s name said it all in 1988, with Lorna offering the same schtick in 1990, and the more tongue-in-cheek Jill of the Jungle (from Tim Sweeney, the Unreal Engine guy) finally getting to save her prince in 1992. Probably the first who truly got to kick arse on PC without having to bare her own was Lt Marta Velasquez, the phenomenally bitchy cyborg star of the shareware shooter Traffic Department 2192 (1994) covered in a previous Crap Shoot. It’s better than it sounds, honest.
First TV Games Show
For magazine-shows, the first was 1992’s GamesMaster – Sir Patrick Moore’s vast, floating head as a globby computer effect, Dominik Diamond as an increasingly irritating personality, and Dave Perry wearing a pirate’s bandana, before declaring himself the ‘Games Animal’. Ah, memories.
The US entered the fray a little sooner, mostly with trash like Saturday Supercade (1983), which featured cartoons based on the likes of Q-Bert, Donkey Kong and Frogger, with the road-jumping amphibian now working as… yes, really… an investigative journalist.
All these are mere pretenders to the crown of the first real videogame TV show: Knightmare (1987). This awesome slice of nostalgia put a few very lucky kids into an RPG universe for real, thanks to bluescreen technology, some of the most blatantly unfair puzzles ever, and rooms and sound effects that still haunt our dreams. It’s not available legally anywhere, but you might, cough, find every episode magically available on YouTube courtesy of a True Internet Hero called Gary.
First Licensed Game
The most famous early licence was Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a godawful yet infuriatingly popular text adventure from 1984. The same year gave us Fahrenheit 451, and one of the worst ideas ever – a text adventure starring The Incredible Hulk which didn’t let you solve every problem just by typing ‘HULK SMASH!’ Just pipping them all to the post though was Prisoner 2, a logic game based on the classic spy series, released in 1982. This was a remake of the original Prisoner, an Apple-II game from 1980 that was supposedly used by actual CIA agents as a training tool… although frankly, we’d take that claim with a whole salt mine of condiment.
First Gay Character
We’ll highlight three here. Sadly, gay characters tend to be used more for comedy or eroticism than as regular people, but there are exceptions. Infocom offered a gay bloke in the sci-fi Circuit’s Edge (1990), and half of a lesbian couple in Moonmist (1986). Neither were playable though. For that, the world had to wait for the bisexual Curtis Craig of Phantasmagoria 2 (1996). Even then, the in-game relationships were between him and his two competing girlfriends.
First Smash Hit
Love it or hate it, Myst (1993) sold insanely well. Until The Sims came along, it was the biggest series ever on PC, the first game alone pushing over 6 million copies.
Not only was it gorgeous for its time, it was one of the first games to really hammer home the benefit of getting a CD drive instead of flouncing around with floppies. Too bad it was rubbish. Some may disagree, but they’re not writing this feature so hah! Myst was boring, boring, boring, and the only genuinely great game its tedium ever spawned was Zork: Grand Inquisitor. Hate mail to the usual address.
First 18 Rated Game
Until CD, games didn’t look realistic enough for the BBFC to bother with (although one text adventure, Dracula, was given a 15, it was only because the developers actively paid for a rating to make the game look scary on the shelves). Some of the earliest rated games included Mad Dog McCree (PG, 1994) and the ‘wellobviously’ Voyeur and The Joy of Sex (both rated 18 in 1993). The first ‘regular’ game to get an 18 according to the BBFC website? A cyberpunk vampire adventure called Bloodnet, back in 1994. Interestingly, the much-maligned Night Trap only got a 15. Some trendsetters fizzle out instead of making a mark. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, as these long-forgotten masterpieces show.
First and Only Naked Hero
Believe it or not, if you exclude the porn games and cartoon animals, the fi rst nude protagonist was a guy. In 1995, the Lost City of Atlantis’s hero had the misfortune to lose his pants after being shipwrecked, forcing him to platformgame starkers. Despite the vast amounts of cloth hanging in the backgrounds…
First and Only Accidental Giveaway
The demo of Robocod actually contained all the level data for the full game, along with a bit of code that locked out everything after the first couple of levels. What did they forget to take out? That’s right, the ‘access all levels’ cheat code. Cue the loudest “DOH!” in videogames history
First and Only Video Magazine
Why be satisfied with screenshots when you can see the games move? Don’t answer that, keep buying the print version of PC Gamer. But if you did wonder, ‘Click’, distributed on VHS tape, provided the answer. “If you’re not saying ‘wow!’, I want to know why!” says one reviewer about the crappy old RPG Heimdall. “Because it’s not 1991 anymore,” we reply.
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Codemasters have announced that Operation Flashpoint: Red River will be coming out on Apri 21 in Europe and April 26 in the US. There will be a ten mission campaign with four player co-op support and a new co-op last stand mode called Fireteam Engagements, where up to four players must defend a downed helicopter from waves of incoming enemies. For more OpFlash action, check out the latest trailer, or head over to the official Operation Flashpoint: Red River site.
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When the entire PC Gamer crew finds themselves backed up against a metaphorical wall made entirely of deadlines, review trips and sicknesses, the ever-bold Dan Stapleton makes a desperate move to save the holy PCG trinity of magazine, website and podcast. By sacrificing all of his comrades to Chronos, the ancient god of time, he has temporarily gained the power to travel through time. First, he used his powers to spook past versions of himself by hiding in his own closet and whispering what would happen to him the next day in a totally creepy voice.
After he grew tired of that, Dan (now technically considered a demigod) decided to use his powers for good. Such as traveling back to Monday in order to interview Good Old Games’s Managing Director, Guillaume Rambourg about how things are going over at the retro game store nowadays, what it’s like to sell games that are DRM-free, and their plans for releasing Witcher 2 DRM-free right when the game is released. Dan wants to help you too: he’ll be traveling back in time to give 10 listeners free games! Find out how you can earn the favor of Demigod Dan and pocket a free game on this week’s podcast!
Have a question, comment or amusing PC game related anecdote? Leave a voicemail: 1-877-404-1337 ext 724.
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