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.
Cory Banks: I'm pretty disappointed that Bungie isn't planning to bring Destiny to the PC . I'm not a Halo fan by any means (though the series' insistence on constraining your choice of weapons is one of my favorite FPS design choices), but a shooter MMO with Destiny's scope could surely find an audience on our platform. I applaud Bungie for at least being open enough to explain why it's holding off on the port, but I still think the studio is making a mistake. Prioritizing the PlayStation 3 version over the PC? Doesn't seem very forward thinking to me. Good luck with that.
Samuel Roberts: I echo Cory's disappointment over Destiny not coming to PC any time in the near future. I'm sure the project, as it stands, is complicated for Bungie to pull off on the PlayStation and Xbox formats already, but skipping the PC is puzzling to me, particularly as the game's roots seem to draw heavily on many games that made their name on the platform. Destiny is arriving on two formats that can surely only have a year left in lifespan—for a series that Bungie can potentially run for a decade, it's baffling to still not have that commitment to PC. I'm sure it will happen eventually, though.
Phil Savage: I really liked Stealth Bastard. It skilfully combined puzzles, platforming and deadly robots, making for a well-paced campaign with some memorable levels. The developers have now announced Stealth Inc 2—having long since dropped the Bastard to appeal to family-friendly console markets. Normally, news of a sequel to a game that I like would be good news. Not this time: it's a Wii U exclusive.
I don't own a Wii U. Not many people do. At the end of 2013, Nintendo announced that it had shipped (not sold) 5.86 million units. For comparison, 5.35 million users are logged into Steam right now. Overall? Around 75 million. Stealth Inc 2's developers do have a reason for using Wii U, and—if you squint a bit—it almost makes sense . To paraphrase: Nintendo's console doesn't have many games, so it's easier to be noticed by the users it does have.
I kind of see what they're getting at, but limiting your potential audience seems crazy. If you're worried about people discovering your game, we can help. Email me and, if your game is good, I'll write about it. I'd rather do that than post a thirty-second trailer for a DLC map-pack.
Evan Lahti: Last week's Highs & Lows was published just as Dark Souls 2 was released, so we didn't get a chance to fully scold From Software for the issues the game experienced at launch. Though a 4/28 patch addressed a start-up crash affecting some players, the latest word from Namco on the VAC bans being wrongly issued by the game is that they'll have “more information in the coming days.”
Chris Thursten: I'm not sure I've disagreed with Ben this much since he killed an innocent backpacker with an axe for no reason . LucasArts distancing themselves from the Star Wars Expanded Universe feels like the final nail in a coffin that has been steadily building around the series since 1998. Like many others I used to love Star Wars—it's one of the few fandoms I've ever really belonged to - and the Expanded Universe was integral to that. It's what made Star Wars a world rather than just a series of movies—and it's what protected the enthusiasm of its fans when the first shit movies started to appear, then the crappy cartoons, the awful games, and so on. The notion was this: that LucasArts could turn out bad products, but they'd be drawn from a good place. Star Wars has been growing steadily more facile since LucasArts started to downplay the EU, and now that they're not bound to it at all there's nothing stop it from becoming a jumped-up firework display of a toy advert in earnest.
This is particularly true of the games. The best Star Wars games—X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, Star Wars Galaxies, the Jedi Knight series—are completely embedded in the EU not only in terms of their subject matter but also their philosophy. X-Wing is a simulator , for crying out loud—it's founded on the notion that this is a coherent universe which can be simulated with a degree of accuracy. Throwing out the EU is a big FU to the fans, and an abdication of responsibility to present Star Wars with any degree of coherence in the future. I'd be furious if the prequel trilogy hadn't already burned out my capacity to have feelings.
Ben Griffin: So this guy asks for my thoughts on episode one of The Wolf Among Us. It's good but really short, I tell him. Like half an hour long. “Really?” he says, surprised. “Yeah, the whole thing is set in a bar.” Turns out this is complete bollocks. The episode is actually several hours long and traverses a number of locations—I was just playing on a friend's save file. I wondered why nothing made sense...