Wes Fenlon: Playing and reviewing The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 3 was the highlight of my week. The episode wasn't quite as strong as episode two, for me, which found a near-perfect balance between interesting conversations, character progression and hard choices. But I loved reviewing episode three because it left me with so much to think about. It really made me question player agency in story-driven games and the difficulty of balancing the player's influence with the character's own personality. I think Clementine is a little too reliable in episode three compared to the adults around her, but Telltale really nailed making every decision a labor of fear and uncertainty.
Phil Savage: Over the last few months, Gone Home's Steve Gaynor has been talking to a selection of game designers, and releasing their conversations as a podcast. It's called Tone Control , and it's now completed its first 'season'—with Gaynor taking a break as he works on The Fullbright Company's next project. That makes it a great time to dip into the archive , which is well worth doing if you're the sort of person who likes to spend hours listening to hot, intimate games chat. Which I am.
Notable interviewees include Tim Schafer, Clint Hocking, Ken Levine, Craig Hubbard and more. Also, former PCG writer Tom Francis—who isn't a long-standing industry veteran, but did once buy me a whiskey, and so deserves a mention. Whoever Gaynor's talking to, he uncovers some fascinating insights into game design and creation.
Tim Clark: The key art created to accompany the Far Cry 4 announcement is so—I dunno, let's say startling —that, like Phil, I wasn't even sure whether it was real or a particularly well-executed NeoGAF parody. Only a despotic junta leader of the most supreme self-confidence is able to rock that particular shade of purple.
What isn't in doubt is how glad I am to have a new Far Cry on the way. The heavily trailed Himalyan setting should provide plenty of opportunity to expand on the 'savage beauty' vibe of the previous game, a shooter which has only grown in my admiration as more time has passed since I finished it. But here's the key question: will there be a yeti hidden away in those foothills? And what is the monetary value of a yetiskin wallet? Asking for a friend.
Ben Griffin: There are three things I love in this world. The first is Dark Souls. The second is my reflection. And third is FIFA. But for the purposes of this bit, let's just say third is The Sims (ordinarily it's fifth, behind Christmas and the smell of cut grass). I've wasted my actual life playing the last three over the last 15 years, and yes before anyone points it out, I'm bitterly aware of the irony.
The trailer shows off the revamped character creator which does away with clunky menus, a range of body shapes from slim and ripped to morbidly obese and depressed, and a feature that lets you finetune wrinkles. Unlike last time around, it's now possible to create someone without giving them a great honking moon face, and that's what I'm most excited about. Now I can make my Sim as appealing as me. Also, it's not always online like SimCity was, so you might even get to play it at launch!
Tyler Wilde: I'm really happy to see player communities band together to keep old multiplayer games going, as they have with the Battlefield series . I could wag my finger at EA for not fighting to keep its old games running post-GameSpy shutdown, but that's a dead end—our effort is better spent praising the players who are knocking down barriers to keep playing the games they love.
Chris Thursten: Dota events always feel like Christmas, but The International is something else. Super Christmas? Let's go with 'Super Christmas'. The Compendium—the in-game betting book that helps to crowdfund the tournament's prize pool—is the best expression of what Valve are trying to do with the game. It's been great to watch the community take ownership of Dota as an e-sport, whether that's finding more inventive ways to present the qualifier games or inflating the prize pool north of $5 million. As much as I'd like to see that prize pool distributed more evenly , that's a small gripe with an otherwise-great system.
I've also enjoyed watching North American Rejects stampede through the American qualifiers. If you're one of the people on reddit who questioned my praise for the quality of play in that tournament this week, well, it was NAR I was referring to. The US has always struggled to pull together a team capable of living up to the hometown support they get at The International, and between EG and NAR this might just be the year where those chants of 'USA!' 'USA!' get heard outside of the lower bracket.
Read on for our lows of the week…
Tyler Wilde: I'm disappointed by NPCs across all of gaming, something I've been thinking about after reviewing Bound by Flame . I spend hours and hours with these characters—talking to them, fighting alongside them—and yet they're so often just encyclopedias of information about my current quest, or the same greeting over and over. Even the most complex of them usually stare blankly at me when I stop talking, or can't remember anything that wasn't baked into their database of dialogue. They have no brains.
I loved bonding with my crew in Mass Effect, and the way Telltale makes silence a choice. These are little steps, but NPCs still haven't changed all that much in the past 10 years. More than improvements in graphics, I hope for more experimentation with how we interact with AI characters, especially where it leans toward simulation. I'm not ridiculously asking for true artificial intelligence, or guards who can beat the Turing test, just for characters who exhibit the illusion of intelligence well enough to surprise me now and then.
Tim Clark: The Division being delayed until 2015 is one of those things that, when it happens, seems so obvious that you have to take a mental inventory to check that it hasn't actually happened already, but you forgot in all the unexcitement. Which isn't to say I'm not excited by the game. I am muchly. I just never for a moment thought anything that looked so ambitious could be turned around in time for a release date this year.
The same goes for The Witcher 3. As soon as you got a sense of that project's sprawling scope , you knew there were two hopes of it coming out on time. And the other was called Bob. There's probably a direct inverse relationship between the level of polish demonstrated by vertical slice demos of new games, and the likelihood of any of the other content existing at the time they're initially shown. Still, not that we should complain. Turns out there are quite a few other things to occupy ourselves with in the meantime…
Phil Savage: Which version of Watch Dogs do you want. I've decided—just now, at random—that I'd like the basic game, the White Hat Pack, and the Conspiracy Mode Digital Trip DLC. Let me consult the big chart to see if... Well, shit.
Buying AAA games is becoming an increasingly bizarre experience. I get why pre-orders matter to publishers, and why that leads to a series of exclusive deals made to retailers, but none of it seems to benefit the consumer. That's because, in my experience, these “exclusive” digital bonuses remain at best pointless, and at worst detrimental to the experience. In Watch Dogs, each outfit pack confers a bonus and, while that doesn't sound like a big thing, it has the potential to undermine the balance of the game. To make it worse, Watch Dogs has asymmetrical multiplayer. It may mean that, if I'm invading another player, I'm directly at a disadvantage for not having bought my copy through Game, or Uplay, or while riding a horse backwards through Tesco. Whatever you have to do to get the extra vehicle hitpoints of the 'Club Justice Single-Player Pack'.
Wes Fenlon: I'm torn on this one. Steam has added more games in the first half of 2014 than it did in the entirety of 2013. That's a ton of games, and I'm sure Early Access and Steam Greenlight are playing a big role there. Is it too many games? Not necessarily—I want everyone to have an opportunity to get a game on Steam—but it highlights how big an issue curation is going to become in the near future.
Valve is taking steps to make it easier to find games. Devs are able to put their games on sale whenever they want. User reviews now indicate that a game was reviewed in Early Access. But the Steam front page still mostly drives people to what's on sale and what's currently selling well. There are so many games, it's going to become increasingly hard for the average user to browse and discover something new. Games are going to get lost in the shuffle. More shovelware is going to slip through the cracks. Valve's going to have to do more curation to ensure Steam stays a useful storefront.
Ben Griffin: 'What is this I don't even' probably best describes my reaction upon watching what little of Bombshell's overlong, meaningless trailer I could stomach. It's a game about a bomb defusal expert called Shelley 'Bombshell' Harrison, so already the metaphors are a being complexly layered. Does she like bath bombs, too? How about photobombs? No? Just the explodey kind. Like Mass Effect's Jack wearing a version of Ripley's Power Loader as reimagined by Victoria's Secret, Shelley enjoys "kicking ass, motorcycles, and kicking ass on motorcycles." Kinda like how I enjoy playing games, sitting in my chair, and playing games while sitting in my chair.
If you're smelling Eau de Nukem, your nose isn't wrong. This was a 3D Realms joint (in collaboration with developers Interceptor Entertainment) called Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction until Gearbox acquired the Duke Nukem IP in 2010 and tried to sue the everloving stuffing from them. See how far into the trailer you can get, if you must. It's a rubbish, dated top-down shooter with a rubbish, dated protagonist. Awesome name though. Bombshell. Strong.
Chris Thursten: This is one of those things that gets you widely derided in certain parts of the internet, but it's been on my mind this week—and it might form the basis of a future Three Lane Highway column. In short: Twitch chat is one of the worst things about e-sports, and the only thing about the hobby that I find actively embarassing. This has been particularly apparent in the 'Hub' streams being run for the TI4 qualifiers, Big Brother-style 24-hour shows where Dota personalities live and watch the games together while surrounded by kittens. It's a cool idea, but it's brought out a really ugly side of the community. The comments that get directed at women in particular make me embarrassed to associate myself with the scene.
Someone's probably going to argue in the comments that this is just how things are on the internet, but I don't see that as an excuse. It's exclusionary, unprofessional, hurtful and lame and it's holding back the game that these people purport to love. This might be as effective as yelling at a cloud , but seriously, guys: grow the fuck up.