The week's highs and lows in PC gaming
Samuel Roberts: Our first proper look at The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter made my week. I feel like I’m looking at a hit in the making, and as a fan of almost any game that uses a Pacific Northwest-like backdrop—the source of which is my ongoing obsession with Twin Peaks, as well as a strong liking for Alan Wake and Deadly Premonition—and the richness of the environmental design and intriguing story, will no doubt find it an audience. It’s so far from Bulletstorm in tone and pacing, and no doubt the ex-People Can Fly staff at The Astronauts are enjoying that difference.
Cory Banks: Ludum Dare 29 took place this past weekend, and it was the largest competition yet. Almost 2,500 games were created by some sleepless devs, an all-time high for the event. Take a second and think about that: Developers made 2,500 games over a weekend. I was just happy I got my laundry done.
Even better: all of these games are free. You can scroll through the entire list, but we’ve picked out a few of our early favorites. Phil was fascinated by Beneath The City, a Thief-inspired, turn-based stealth game that challenges you to save your sister from a prison. Ian’s early favorites are Beneath The Trolls, where you have to escape from a troll-filled cavern, and Atomical, which shrinks the escape theme of the game jam down to the atomic level. Even if these don’t grab you, there are plenty more to choose from. If you’re somehow out of games to play this weekend, you’ll surely find something in this list.
Evan Lahti: Cheating is nothing to celebrate, of course, but we got loads of positive feedback on our investigation of hacking in multiplayer PC games this week. After the months of research that our writer Emanuel Maiberg dedicated to the story, we learned that the battle between cheating manufacturers and game developers is a constant one, and that the users of cheats themselves aren’t universally the villains that we think they are.
An interesting fact that didn’t make it into the final feature, Emanuel noted on Reddit, is that apparently games ported from Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3—like Homefront—were some of the most hackable because they were designed for a closed system.
Phil Savage: The mod scene is in an interesting place these days. On some level, you could argue that it had declined—that the rise of accessible game engines like Unity means would-be developers have a better platform for hobby projects. Even where this isn't the case, the biggest projects are more likely to be released as standalone games—as seen with The Dark Mod or Black Mesa.
Really, mods are just outgrowing the games they were once attached to. But even as this process continues, there are still plenty of people dedicated to expanding and improving the games that they love. We saw that plenty of times this week: the standalone Stalker: Lost Alpha introducing cut content back to Shadow of Chernobyl, Deus Ex: Revision bringing a new style to the immersive classic, Supreme Battlefeel beautifully retexturing Supreme Commander, and Morrowind Rebirth going back into labour. I wish mods were declining. That way I'd have more spare time.
Chris Thursten: The Dota 2 patch notes dropped at about two in the morning on a weeknight, which was actually pretty convenient given that I was still up and playing Dota at the time. I spent the next half hour going over the changes with my team on Skype. These bursts of social theorycrafting are one of my favourite things about a new patch—even though Reddit will be reliably ahead of us in terms of unpicking the implications of every single change, there’s something special about doing it ourselves. Now that the worst of the new bugs have been nixed (nyxed?), it’s a great patch. I really like the changes to Axe—moving Counter Helix to pseudo-random distribution might reduce the chances of a infini-spin rampage, but it raises the skill ceiling of the hero. He now plays a little more like Lone Druid, in that you’re encouraged to keep an eye on your proc rates to ensure that you get those Counter Helix spins when you need them.
I’m less in love with the changes to Phoenix, who has become one of my favourite heroes since he was introduced in January. Fire Spirits definitely needed a nerf—I’m not too fussed about that part—but the massively increased cast point on Icarus Dive makes the hero a little bit less fun. His old hair-trigger escape-or-chase button meant that you could really push your luck with dives, whereas now you need to make sure you give yourself space to dive back if anything goes wrong. He feels less ballsy, now, which is a shame. I appreciate that a large number of people will have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s because you weren’t up at 2am reading patch notes! Seriously, what’s wrong with you.
Ben Griffin: Praise be, the Star Wars canon is being reined in. To prepare for the upcoming trilogy, it has been announced that the bloated, heaving Expanded Universe that stretches 36,000 years before The Phantom Menace and 130 years after Return of the Jedi is largely being jettisoned. That includes each and every Star Wars game, too. Will that give Visceral and EA a little bit more creative licence with the franchise in the future? Here’s hoping.