We received an excellent email from PopCap employee Anthony Coleman, showing us his Halloween costume.
Which really is rather extraordinary.
Ask a reader of the British version of PC GAMER what their favourite part of the magazine is and chances are they'll reply "The incisive, witty, reviews.". Ask them again in a slow, deliberate, Christopher Walken kind of voice, and they usually respond with a squeaky "The features? The g-g-g-games culture section?". Ask them a third time while frothing at the mouth and repeatedly stabbing a large hunting knife into a copy of the mag open at page 21, and they almost always answer "The cartoon! Strafe Left! Yes. That is my favourite part of the magazine.".
Some fascinating Strafe Left facts...
*SL has been running for over four years. *SL is always delivered long before deadline. *The creator's tool of choice is a rod of kiln-fired graphite sheathed in a sleeve of sun-ripened cedar. *In June of 2004 an SL depicting Jesus and Mohammed as vortigaunts caused riots in parts of Xen. *One old and cruelly-resized SL will be appearing on RPS every weekend from now on.
John somehow - i.e. Couldn't Think Of A Funny Joke (But - hey! - as if that's ever stopped him before) - missed out the Witcher from his round-up of PC game releases this week, so it's worth bringing to your attention, as it's the biggest release unless you're a foot-to-ball fan. It looks like this.
And that's you, The Witcher. No matter what you want - like, say, looking like someone who isn't a incy-wincy bit derived from top Albino Eternal Champion and general glorious self-obsessed fuck-wit Elric - that's still you. This threw Dan Whitehead over at Eurogamer in his review, where he argues - pretty much - if you can't create your own character, it's not a role-playing game. Which was such a debatable claim, it (er) immediately provoked a debate. In fact, I initiated it, because upon reading the review's intro, I mumbled "Christ, Dan, you're going to get slaughtered for that, mate", so I thought by getting it rolling in a relatively pleasant way, it'll save the inevitable Final-Fantasy fan arriving throwing a stroppy trantrum in the manner of a final Fantasy character.
But still, it is a perennial question (i.e. It gets argued on forums only slightly less often than Whether Games Or Art) and I thought I'd try and do relatively brief take on it. Feel free to provide yours, as one of the main reasons to lob this stuff in public is so people can pick it to pieces, so I can rethink gaping flaws.
Why? Because doing this just made me scream and run out of the room in big-girl's-blousey fear:
Casually carrying around a half-dead Korean chap by the neck for five minutes, and seeing his eerily well-rendered face sporadically contort in absolute terror (procedurally-generated absolute terror, it's rumoured) is surely a frightening experience whilst entirely compos mentis. Doing it whilst several sheets to the wind is like a nightmare made real. That face, oh God, that face...
It's certainly fine work on Crytek's part in terms of adding a certain sense of consequence to traditional FPS violence. I don't, however, thank them for the next fortnight of sleepless nights I'm going to suffer as a result.
"The name's Malcolm."
The winner of the PC category for game of the year at the Golden Joystick Awards went to, you guessed it, The Lords Of The Rings Online: Shadows Of Angmar! Oh, you hadn't guessed? Well you'd be forgiven - it's one of those reader's votes things, and it seems The Lord Of The Rings Online remains extra specially popular with a huge swathe of the PC gaming populace. LOTRO beat World Of Warcraft: Burning Crusade, Football Manager 2007, Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow Of Chernobyl. It was 2007: The Year Of The Colon.
And here's an orc, celebrating:
Needless to say, RPS will be holding its own highly sought-after PC gaming awards towards the end of the year, and I'm not anticipating Lord Of The Rings Online doing quite so well in that... I wonder if we should have a Best Peggle category?
The Crysis demo appeared last night, in an effort to confuse everyone. It's a whopping 1.77Gb (123.8 Peggles), and can be downloaded from all sorts of places, helpfully gathered together here.
And it's really rather good. This is a huge chunk-o-game, which if explored gleefully could take you well over an hour to play through. (I'm sure idiots could rush through it in minutes, but I care not for the antics of idiots). And finally, we can believe in the powers of the suit. But there are some problems. So, in the interests of not being a miseryguts, here's what's good about the demo:
According to reports leaking out of the GameCity event in Nottingham, UK, David Braben is still working on Elite IV. The game showed up on a slide during his presentation, with the nomenclature "PC, PS3, Xbox 360" next to it. That suggests that the fourth freeform space epic might not be too far off.
It's not the first time this has come up, of course, as it was first mooted back in 2000, when Braben apparently dabbled with the idea of Elite being an MMO, but shelved the notion due to fear of MMO technological immaturities. Then there was some minor Elite IV rumblings in 2006 during Braben's first press outings for The Outsider which, damnably, is not coming out on PC. Apparently Braben's team will be able to use what they've learned from the proposed 2009 release of The Outsider in the development of a fourth Elite game. Funny that, when most development teams still haven't learned from what Elite did in 1984.
And it's just occurred to me that most of our American readers won't have a clue who David Braben is, or why we're excited about Elite... will they? Hmm. Not much we can do to fix that, other than perhaps link to the OpenGL version of Frontier and say that Elite started many of us on the long road towards being the boring old nerds we are today.
Bearded ETQW development boss Paul Wedgwood has just mailed to remind y'all that the 1.2 update for ETQW is imminent. It will include a bunch of balancing changes, UI tweaks, bot-bolstering, and lovely in-game voice-comms stuff.
And being a forgetful type, I've only just remembered that my Enemy Territory: Quake Wars review has gone online over at PC Gamer UK. In it I discuss how the game isn't just Battlefield with Strogg, and how I feel it lacks some of the nail-biting this-way-that-way tension of games which have symmetrical objectives. I don't talk about the totally awesome Slipgate level, however. So I might do that now.
Read on for thoughts and stuff.
For an astonishing one week, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has been bringing you the definitive guide to that week's PC gaming releases. So let's cast our mind back all that time to the very first ever This Week In Reviews, and see some of those highlights. And those haircuts.
"Here’s the coming week’s releases..."
"Each stage begins with a..."
"where they have to push the"
Good, good times. But enough with nostalgia. As one era ends, another begins, and so it is we enter a second week of This Week In Reviews*.
Bringing unique challenges to the world of sports, Alan Hanson introduces two main modes of play. First is "How To Spell Your Own Name" - Alan demonstrates the difficulty of this with his own failed attempt at writing his name on the box. And secondly, how to play any sports - other than a goalie in foot-to-ball - with his giant mutant handfeet.
[I was rooting around my hard-drive, trying to find the Freedom Force post-mortem which I swear to God I wrote, and I hit on something else similarly spandex-clad. The interview was done with Jack Emmert towards the end of 2004, so bear that in mind for some of the comments made.]
City of Heroes was the surprise Massively-Multiplayer game hit of the year. Yes, World of Warcraft dominated... but the surprise wasn't that it was a success, but the sheer scale of it. For a game to come from a team no-one had heard of, about a topic that had oft seemed commercially unviable, and to quietly revolutionise the genre with a stripped-down action-RPG… well, that’s a twist ending. No-one saw this one coming, True Believer.
We take a few minutes to secure an audience with the public face of City of Heroes, at publisher NCSoft’s recent European launch. He’s the Statesman, the defender of truth, justice and reasonable ping. But no-one’s seen him in the same room at the time with mild-mannered Lead Designer Jack Emmert. Could these two figures be connected?
The Crysis demo is yours to download today! Er, if you're willing to buy Crysis first.
EA, in their non-stop waterfall of wisdom, have decided that it's an extremely clever idea to ask people to pay money for an advert - an advert that will be available for free tomorrow.
For those who are buying the game anyway, they can gain access to the brief section for a whole 24 hours, when the non-pre-ordering plebs must sit outside in the cold. Which includes us, so we've no idea what the demo's like. Sorry about that. Read on for more moaning.
The gaming hardware market is always a rich source of people who just don't get it. All those keyboard and mouse replacements, made from the mistaken presumption that PC gamers at large have some sort of problem with keyboard and mouse. Then there's the occasional chair-with-a-subwoofer-in, like the Buttkicker, which thinks bombarding your guts with violent tremors until you need to stop playing and go have a poo adds something to gaming. The pistol-shaped mouse still makes me giggle, designed seemingly oblivious to the fact that the nature of mouse usage means there's no way the barrel of the gun would ever be pointed at your on-screen target, and that having a second, different weapon alongside the one already visible in the game only screws with the sense of immersion.
And now this...
I'm sure there's a genre title for the sort of game, where you have a background on which obvious items can be clicked, triggering animated events. It's minimal interaction, maximum art. Done badly, it's the worst sort of pixel-hunt. But done well, it can be really very beautiful.
The Visitor can't exactly be described as "very beautiful", but it is done well. An alien creature grub crashes to earth on a meteor, and in a very short game, you help him make his grisly way through a nearby homestead. It's so refreshingly gruesome, reversing your instincts and having you aid the revolting alien creature to achieve his goals. There are quite a few awkward moments where the next click doesn't feel natural, but it's generally possible to muddle past them, and no great chore to click about until you find the right order. And while there's only one true puzzle, it's a fun one. Go play.
[I've been saving up rants about the Orange Box for a while now. Pretty much all of them feature the word "Paradigm", so be warned: sit down, pour a drink, prepare your rotten vegetables to throw. This one's probably the most essential one, so it's going first, just to make sure I remember to do it.]
The Orange Box: Christ, it's bloody funny, isn't it?
Now, we, as PC Gamers, were kind of expecting bits of it to be funny. Team Fortress' character shorts had prepared us a little for the tone of the game, and the graphic style was obviously a radical break from the Marines (Space, or otherwise) FPS monopoly. But when Portal was discussed, we tended to dwell upon it taking Narbacular Drop's reality warping puzzle-play and bringing it to the people - that is, we were interested due to its mechanics rather than anything else. And as for Episode 2... Half-life's Half-life. If it's funny, it's in a random character moment as a break from the normal Orwell-does-a-disaster-movie tension. We were expecting them to be GOOD. But we weren't expecting Team Fortress 2 to be as rampantly hilarious, Portal to be so funny that it's driven us all a little bit mad and even relative-straight man Episode 2 to play up its wit to an unprecedented level.
While we've a few months to go, it's increasingly looking like the Orange Box will be the definitive PC "thing" of 2007. Absolutely the heart of the mainstream zeitgeist in the way that Doom or World of Warcraft or Starcraft or the original Half-life were in their respective years. And it's funny. The heart of PC Gaming is funny.
This hasn't been true since 1991.
The PC demo for popular racing sequel Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights is now available. It's funny that there's been so much noise about this, because I seem to recall the original Juiced being, well, a bit rubbish. Most people were pleased that it survived the desctruction of Acclaim, but no one would have stood up and said "Juiced really is one of my favourite racing games, yes sir. Let's have another."
Half Max Power-car showdown, half RPG-racer career thing, it was all... uninspired. The handling of the racing wasn't too hot either. That hasn't stopped Juiced 2 from selling mysteriously large numbers over in the land of console gaming. It's shinier, to be sure, but this is a very similar calibre of game the second time around. I imagine it has either sold more because everyone really did like that refreshed powerslide handling, or we Britons are simply obsessed with racing unrealistically shiny hatchbacks around contrived urban environments. Sorry, I came over all cynical there. It's just been a while since a racing game really gripped me, I suppose.
The Battlestar Galactica remake is just made for games, with its compelling jump-cutty, eerily quiet space combat and signature ships. Fortunately, people have done so, for free and very well indeed. There's the Homeworld 2 mod here, and the Freespace 2 mod here.
And today the official game's been released, available exclusively online. It's $20 (or £13), which doesn't sound like much, but every penny spent will feel like a knife in the kidney if you do splash out. Fortunately the demo's enough to make that pretty obvious. Forlorn impressions follow.
Via Indygamer, I see that Cactus Software have a new game out. It's a scrolling shooter, and a little less imaginative than some of their previous games, but it nevertheless errs on the side of excellent esoterica. The visuals mix retro-polygonal abstract techno shooter stuff with, well, Cyrillic text and celluloid film-grain processing. I also like that you can turn the subtitles to the (presumably Russian?) text on and off. There's a direct download link here.
Press enter during the game for instructions - and you'll need to read them as the mixture of charge shot and shield controls make this a tricky but focusing shmup. Having ignored the instructions and guessed at the keys, it took me maybe four goes to clear the first couple of sections. But who ever reads those things, eh?
A thousand welcomes to Rock, Paper, Shotgun Version 3.345263ish!
Thanks the size of Zeus' biceps go out to James Willock for its construction. We hope you like it. We do. We understand that you may not, however, because change is terrifying.
So, comments are disabled on this post for the time being, as frankly our focus at the moment is checking it all works properly, not arguing about grey versus red. Please, check it out. See that everything works properly. If it doesn't - and I mean actually not working or something important having been lost in translation, not moon-on-a-stick requests - please drop me a line here and I'll chat to t'others about getting it sorted.
Are Valve big meanies? Apparently folk who bought the retail version of Valve's Orange Box from online stores that flog cheap - but legit - boxed copies from foreign climes such as Russia and Thailand are finding that, after a week of happy play, they're suddenly punished for saving a few bucks... How? Read on.
I've just been doing my pre-breakfast web-dredging and come up with the Mutant demo from Napoleon Games. It's based around a man with four arms. Four arms means that he can carry four guns! Imagine the possibilities. Actually what it adds up to is a top-down shooter with some weird auto-firing stuff as your secondary pair of arms wave about in the direction of your enemies.
It's actually briefly entertaining, especially since the hordes of enemies that you find around the Czech capital must kept at, er, arms length if you want to stay alive for more than a few seconds. It probably needs to highlight ammo a bit better and leave more of it around on the open level. I quickly ran out and died. But then it is very early and I've not had my oat-based cereal.
What would you do if you found yourself in Prague with an extra pair of arms, readers?
Sierra have announced that their Korean online basketball game, FreeStyle Street Basketball, is now free to play. Although not exactly the finest basketball game the world has to offer, it is easy to play and the customisable cell-shaded ballers have a certain charm to them.
The biggest problem, I suspect, will be getting a game.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of timetabling. Somehow, in the videogame cultural desert that is the UK, two progressive, forward looking and fun videogame events got scheduled in the same week.
Nottingham's GameCity, in its second year, "explores videogames in new ways, trying to uncover the most interesting parts of their culture and inviting you to join in. You'll find games to play, speakers to hear and talk with, music to dance to and plenty of surprises. We hope you'll discover something you'll love". Meanwhile, the London Games Festival features "diverse events in different venues for different audiences. Whether you’re a gamer, a parent needing advice on games, someone working in the industry, or just want to find out more about how games work and where the future of entertainment will take us, this is a festival for you." Which makes you think that the Nottingham one, with clear Indie Cred, would be the one the always-ready-to-posture RPS would back up.
It's certainly what GameCity organiser, the ever-sharp Iain Simmons would argue. "The fact that we're independent gives us a mandate to do anything we want", he argues in his GamesIndustry.biz interview. "From what I can gather, we're trying to do quite different things." he continues, "The fact that we're independent and we're not industry run – not instigated by ELSPA or a publisher's point of view – gives us a mandate to do anything we want." Except it's not that simple. The London Festival is of such a size that it has its own Fringe. Our contacts inside argue that they're probably just as "independent" as GameCity, and the events are mostly free to get into.
So, being videogames, the only way to settle this is a HEAD TO HEAD DEATHMATCH WHERE I AWARD POINTS FOR RANDOM BITS OF THEIR PROGRAM WHICH CATCH MY EYE.
So, we're in a bit of a quandry. Bioshock was quite exciting. The Orange Box was simply incredibly wonderfully enormo-exciting. The writers and readers of RPS alike rode these zeitgeist waves in something like ecstasy, hollering happy, happy words all the way. But what now? While there'll doubtless be yet more Portal posts here before the year is out, really it's time we look to tomorrow...
[I wrote this for PC Gamer UK much earlier this year when I found myself playing this RTS. It ended up not running for one reason or another, so I'll immortalize it on the Electric Internet. It's less born of obsessive love, more trying to explain why people really should give it a crack, especially as it's only a fiver now. Kohan developers Timegate are, of course, now continuing the FEAR series for Sierra, which as far as odd change of development team directions go, is almost up to Digital Illusions moving from Pinball Dreams to Battlefield.]
Your friends are laughing at you behind your back. It happens to everyone, at least once. You're going out with someone who no-one else can understand why you're with. While to you, they're all kinds of neat, to your friends it's a clear case of WHAT ARE YOU DOING PUTTING YOUR TONGUE IN THEIR MOUTH AND WRITHING? Some wait it out politely. Others – normally the “better” friends - feel it's in your best interest to take you to one side and question your madness. And laugh. Mainly, laugh.
I’ve been playing Kohan II: Kings of War for the last few weeks. It's been a bit like that.
This is kind of interesting. It's a gaming subsection for a site that gives away a free piece of software every 24-hours. They're not giving away Elder Scrolls games or anything, but there's some fun stuff on there nonetheless. Plenty of puzzle games and minor platform games and shooters to try out. It's probably worth keeping an eye out to see what they come up with. I see we missed them giving away Jets 'N' Guns last week. Bah.
Anyway, today's game is Alawar's Arctic Quest, a kind of grid-based jigsaw-against-the-clock game. It's okay, 'spose.
So yes, it's a wonky, gloopy, mishaped and not in 3D Weighted Companion Freezer, but it's my wonky, gloopy, mishaped and not in 3D Weighted Companion Freezer. Someone else would have done a better job, but I hate that guy. So there. It's my friend.
For those not aware of Fansy's infamy... well, get to the page, already. In short, on the original hardcore PvP Everquest server - i.e. anything goes - he found a loophole which he abused in such a dramatic way to make the developers pretty much change the whole world just because of him. Anyone beneath level 5 was invulnerable in PvP. So he headed out into the wilderness, and dragged back enormous chains of monsters to pound on everyone else, while maintaining a faux-naif personality in all OOC chat. Which he then shared with us in the aforementioned website. In any other server, he'd be a monster. In a place devoted to beating on people... well, he's a little like the guy who would walk into Arkham Asylum in Gotham City with a portable Nuke strapped to his chest (While laughing). Yes, crazy. But - at a distance - a kind of admirable crazy. JohnH in the Escapist Comments thread sums Fansy's achievements succinctly: "In a world made for griefers, Fansy succeeded in becoming the Grief King, and doing it in a way that brought to them a bit of that all-too-scarce commodity, karma. The real stuff, not governed by any game-tracked variable." Anyway - read the interview.
In case you missed it, MTV's gaming blog 'Multiplayer' yesterday threw up an interview with Jonathan Coulton, the dude who wrote Portal's ever-catchy Still Alive, about the story behind that very song. It's fun, if not hugely illuminating, but most importantly addresses the vital cake question:
I don’t think I ever got any cake, but they [Valve] promised it all along. I will say they have the greatest table of snacks in their kitchen that I have ever seen: baskets and baskets of granola bars, and candy and all kinds of gum and Tootsie Rolls and Nerds and Doritos in little bags.
Valve's Eric Wolpaw (and ex-Old Man Murray funnyking) weighs in at one point, revealing that also considered for Portal's music was Ben Folds. Ew. I suspect I'll have nightmares tonight about a horrific alternate reality where that actually happened, like the ones I sometimes have about Robert Zemeckis sticking with Eric Stoltz instead of Michael J. Fox for Back To The Future.
Our secret mole inside Valve has pointed out this song to us:
It's by Victims of Science, which is an excellent name to be sure, and makes a nice track 2 for our just made up unofficial Portal album. Just need tracks 3 to 12 now.