Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Before its most recent big update, Team Fortress 2 had gone over seven months without any significant content additions. For someone like me who plays TF2 regularly, that’s a long time to tolerate the same old set of maps and weapons as well as glitches and imbalances that become more frustrating to play against every day. When an update was teased by Valve, it was exciting, just as all teasers of this nature are. I’d hoped that they would focus on adding some new maps to the core TF2 game rather than Mann vs Machine, probably some popular custom maps from the community. I held a vague hope that maybe they’d add some new weapons and rebalance some existing items that are just too powerful – the Gunslinger and the Degreaser/Axtinguisher combo being top of that list. In my idealistic dream world, I wanted Valve to make some dramatic changes to TF2′s Steam Workshop, allowing us to download custom maps that are hosted there rather than disparate corners of the internet. This would make it much easier to keep pumping fresh content into a player’s game on their own terms.

Instead, Valve have given us a half measure. Two new maps, both contributed by the community: cp_process and cp_standin. Process is a popular map that’s been a part of the competitive circuit (both 6v6 and Highlander formats) for a long time, with professional players embracing its old school symmetrical five control point layout. The last time Valve attempted designing a map of that ilk was cp_foundry, which is too large for low population games. Turning to the community for the next step, then, was a smart solution. To an extent.

Where cp_process is a very astute addition to TF2, cp_standin is a head scratcher. The competitive community spent some time with Standin but rejected it quite quickly and, having played it, I can understand why. Standin is unique in that it’s not a standard control point map where you have to capture points sequentially to win the round. Instead, all three points are available to capture at all times and the first team to hold them all at the same time is the winner. It’s very similar to a Domination system, which doesn’t belong in TF2.

swiftwater

pl_swiftwater – a map that really should have been officially added to TF2 by now

Part of TF2′s beauty is having a mix of classes all converging on a single point and engaging in dozens of different battles simultaneously. It’s part of why payload is my favourite mode, the action is focused in one area, but that area – the cart – is dynamic and constantly shifting. Standin does not provide this often enough. It’s conceivable for two teams to be fighting over three different points at the same time, which sounds exciting but doesn’t provide the desired level of chaos. The domination system also demands that each point be a good distance away from each other, which means that outside of well coordinated games, you’re rarely going to experience the thrill of a massive team fight. Oh, and it’s all grey – possibly the least aesthetically pleasing official map in the game.

The item rebalancing was very in-depth and ambitious, which is admirable. Although the Gunslinger received a minor nerf, the Degreaser and Axtinguisher remain too powerful and are still the obvious choices for a Pyro. In an update that tried to address a lack of viable alternatives for a lot of classes, this is sad to see (though the buff to the Powerjack was a step in the right direction).

And that’s it. Seven months to wait for what was essentially a housekeeping update featuring one good map. I can appreciate the effort that will have gone into modernising a lot of the pre-existing maps to accommodate all of the items and styles of play that have been created in the years since their introduction, but this ought to have been done long ago.

I also appreciate that this sounds like the first world problems rant of an over-entitled TF2 player, so I want to make it more constructive than that. But first, some context:

I watched a video from Salamancer recently, a competitive TF2 shoutcaster who met Valve in June to discuss the game’s competitive future and what Valve plans to do to integrate it more into the core experience. I don’t have any intention of playing competitively yet, but there were a couple of details in Sal’s video that really interested me (from 1:30 onwards)

For reference, those points are:

1) The TF2 team at Valve is populated by five people
2) Robin Walker no longer works on the game

I can understand why Robin Walker doesn’t work on TF2 anymore. He’s one of Valve veterans and I’m sure there are many exciting projects being worked on that are calling for his brain. But I’m more interested in the amount of people currently choosing to work on TF2.

On any given day, TF2 is the second most played game on Steam, consistently sitting around 50,000 players and peaking at 70,000. Is it really wise, therefore, to have a single digit number of people working on that game? There’s no finger pointing here, because Valve’s structure dictates that people work on what they’re interested in. If not many people are interested in maintaining and developing new content for a seven year old game, then that’s fine. But if that’s the case, it’s time for Valve to recognise that there’s an amazingly supportive community behind them who are and have been developing some incredible content for a long time now without recognition.

Recognition doesn’t have to come from being officially implemented into the game – just use the Steam Workshop as a primary hub for people to add content to their game. Accept map submissions, allow people to download and test them independently rather than being reliant on you to give them the green light. Of course, thanks to the Mann Co Store and TF2′s competitive aspect it’s still necessary to have an element of curation to the workshop when it comes to cosmetic items and weapons. But there are some cases where the community have submitted  fixes for issues with certain items, only to be ignored. This is worrying.

So, Valve, instead of trying to run an extremely popular game with a handful of people, start allowing its passionate and brilliantly creative community members to have more influence on the game they love so dearly. We get to reap the benefits of adding content to TF2 on our own terms and you can start focusing on fun, innovative stuff again. Maybe then more people within the company will be compelled to work on this extraordinary game.

Moving

I’m going to be moving to Bath soon, specifically July 7th. It’s quite exciting because it’s the first time I will have lived away from home for anything other than university but it’s also incredibly nerve-wracking for a number of reasons. Mainly because it’s the first time I will have lived away from home for anything other than university.

Another big reason that this is so bloomin’ intimidating is that I’m going there with no guarantee of any work at any place. I’m going there in the hopes that being in a bigger city = more places that potentially have jobs available, so it’s a bit of a gamble. I’ve been out of work since February and even that was only temp work, so over the last 12 months I’ve worked for a grand total of six weeks and it’s been getting to me.

I suppose the worst that could happen would be for me to not find a job and run out of money so that I’m forced to move back home, although even that’s not a disaster because I’m lucky enough to have a family who are supportive of such circumstances. I’d just keep looking for work in and around London and hope I get a bit luckier than I have in the last year, which has produced several employment near misses.

Sometimes I think I’m being a bit short sighted about all this. I’m not just moving to find a job or spend some time in a nice city (because Bath is lovely), I’m going because it’s about time I started doing things like this. I’ve been living in a bubble for a long time now, my one year on campus at UEA being an exception to the rule. My three years at London Met were spent as a commuting student, rather than one getting a taste for the big wide world like so many others who were renting a place in the city. I’m 23 now, it’s about time I started bringing myself out of my comfort zone more often in an effort to improve myself and get out of this mental slump I’ve been in for ages.

Anyway, if something jobby happens while I’m out in Bath I’ll tweet and probably write about it too. Hopefully this summer will be a happy one.

My Week at PC Gamer

This week, I’ve been doing intern work for PC Gamer. I first approached them about doing this before I’d finished at uni and we recently agreed that I could go into the office and make words for them at their office in Bath.

I didn’t quite know what to expect from my week. The classic magazine intern stereotype is that they just make tea and coffee and do any more monkey work that’s far removed from any of the more significant work that actually goes into making their product. But I wasn’t there to do monkey work, I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted to show I was capable of doing the big boy work as well as being someone who’s reliable and could be called upon to do more for them in the future. As such, I was extremely nervous and destroying myself with anxiety in the immediate build up to the week. I wasn’t confident I could work to their standards. Heck, I wasn’t confident that I’d be called to do anything important and just do the sort of work that interns always get asked to do.

So I was pretty surprised when, right off the bat, I was writing a news piece for the website. My name on an article on PC Gamer!* Mental. And everyone in the office was being really friendly, so the fears and stress that I had been feeling the day before had been evaporated within an hour of taking my seat.

I was lucky throughout the week because, as I was told a few times, I was experiencing a bit of everything that comes with working on a games magazine. On Monday the team were on deadline so I was able to sample the surprisingly calm atmosphere of that. I was very kindly invited to the pub that evening and had a great time socialising with some genuinely nice people too. Following that we had Gamescom, so new announcements were always coming in to keep the news people busy. Finally there was the simple post-deadline atmosphere and laying the foundations for the next magazine.

Happily, this was something I was very involved in, more than I expected in fact. I was asked to write the pages for three regular sections: Play, Incoming and Must Play. I also wrote the stories for the first three pages of Monitor, which is the news section of the mag. It was only by this point in the week that I really started to feel my writing was improving, given the long amount of time since I last wrote something of worth and I was really happy with what I’d submitted. I might have something printed in Now Playing as well, which would be amazing.

I suppose my only regret of the week was that it seemed to go so quickly. But thanks to a chat with Graham and Rich towards the end of my last day, I left feeling pretty good about the work I’d done as well as my prospects for the future. In fact, I don’t think the week could have gone much better for me on a personal and professional level. Now I’ve just got to practise some of the advice I was given and hope that it takes me places.

Huge thanks must go out to Tom Senior, Tom Francis, Graham, Rich and Owen for all helping me to settle in and feel welcomed, and to Chris for holding my hand through most of the week and giving me the help I needed when I needed it.

*Upon returning home I found out that this was screenshotted, printed off and put into a frame. You can imagine my embarrassment.

December Round-up

SWTOR - Coruscant

December is now a time for two things: Christmas and the Steam Christmas Sale. Thankfully this year’s versions of those things did not rob me of all my money, though I did buy a few decent games from the Steam Sale which I’ll get onto in a moment.

First though, a couple of links to stuff I wrote on Gaming Daily in December. The first, a review of indie puzzler English Country Tune, can be found here. The second thing is a ‘Games of 2011′ piece in which all GD writers assembled words about their favourite games of the year and what made them so good. It’s well worth reading because my personal GOTY may surprise you – here it is.

Random Thoughts

- I was lucky to get some cracking games over the Christmas period. About a week before Christmas I got my copy of Star Wars: The Old Republic and have joined my old WoW guild in some adventures on Hydian Way. I’ve really been enjoying SWTOR so far and I hope to get a video out soon in which I summarise my thoughts on it so far (because I haven’t played anywhere near enough to consider reviewing it). On Christmas Day I got Saints Row: The Third which I haven’t played yet, though I have only heard good things about it from people so far. Unsurprisingly I have found myself sinking deeper and deeper into Skyrim as well but perhaps the big surprise over the last couple of weeks has been a little gem I picked up in the Steam sale called Dungeon Defenders.
I’ve known about Dungeon Defenders for a while, but something unknown to me stopped me from buying it before now. Since it dropped in price for the Steam Sale, I decided to go for it and I’ve had so much fun with it since then. It just feels like everything that should be in a tower defense game is in there, including towers and defense. I may well write something or make a video about it in the future because it really deserves the praise.

- 2011 really was a superb year for games, perhaps the best ever for me personally. With all the quality that we’ve been given this year, I think I’m quite happy to wait until March before Mass Effect 3 comes out and becomes my first big game purchase of 2012. I do, however, need to play through Mass Effect 2 again before that happens because some idiot forgot to backup his save file before formatting his PC last year.

- With all the gorgeous screenshots that I’ve been taking in Skyrim and SWTOR, I’ve been thinking of setting up a Flickr account just so I have somewhere to keep them other than my hard drive. The title image for this post was a particularly lovely scene, I felt.

- In an incentive to write more things, I’ve been considering turning this into a more multi-purpose blog because there are a lot of things like sport and ‘real world’ things that I would love to write about but don’t really fit into ‘PC Gaming Diaries’. So I’m brainstorming ideas, trying to work out whether I should make a new blog or ‘rebrand’ this one to become more broader and more personal. If you’ve made it this far, your input would be appreciated.

Adios!

Beautiful beautiful beautiful

I bought Skyrim. I haven’t had much time to play it due to uni commitments, but I played Oblivion before purchasing it and managed to have fun with it. I still think a different mindset is required when it comes to playing Bethesda games compared to most other studios. My way of playing games has always been to plow through with the story, often having a clear idea of what the best way to play my character is. Having come to terms with Bethesda being different, I’m starting to enjoy it quite a lot. It’s one of only two games this year (the other being Deus Ex: HR) that makes me want to sit in the main menu just to hear the theme play out.

(I know, the idea of that being the highest form of praise I can give to Skyrim is stupid – I just thought it’s kind of cool).

One of the reasons I didn’t get to play much Skyrim is also down to my involvement in The Old Republic’s beta weekend. I went into the game almost blind, having not done much reading into the classes or abilities and such, but after that weekend, colour me fucking impressed. That was the most polished beta I’ve ever played in. The biggest bug I could find in my many hours of play was my character’s lips not moving during conversation pieces. When that’s the biggest problem you find in an MMO beta a month before its full release, you know it’s in pretty good shape.

There are some improvements that could be made, of course. I’d like to see a bit more done with character customisation – a common request from the testers during the weekend, but having only four different body shapes is restrictive. It did, however, allow me to play as a morbidly obese Sith Warrior, so all clouds, silver lining etc.

I can see myself playing quite a lot of The Old Republic. Most of my old WoW guild mates are making the switch and I’ll be playing with them which is a big plus. As to whether I’ll do much raiding or endgame content, I’m not sure. I’ve really enjoyed playing with different characters, mostly for story purposes, so I might turn into one of those MMO players who just levels tons of alts and doesn’t necessarily focus on one character. Part of me quitting raiding in WoW was because I felt like I wasn’t enjoying it and I was just doing it out of habit rather than for fun, which is something I’m still conscious of avoiding – particularly with a game with as much promise as SWTOR.

So yeah, The Old Republic; it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an MMO made by BioWare and set in Star Wars. That’s just about the best way I can sum it up.

The Problem with Bethesda

Skyrim

In roughly a week from now, the gaming world will be whipped into a frenzy over one game. It would have been two, but the sequel to Get Fit with Mel B got delayed, sadly. I am, of course, referring to Skyrim. Many of the people who I work with on Gaming Daily will probably be part of the frothy-mouthed masses while wandering through the alleged 300 hours worth of content. However, it’s with some trepidation that I say I doubt I’ll be one of them.

I know that the last two times I’ve said ‘I probably won’t get this’ have been with Crysis 2 and Starcraft II, both games I didn’t end up ‘probably not getting’ at all. I bloody well did get them and finished neither of them, but I really don’t think I’ll be buying Skyrim on November 11th – a notion that will no doubt see me cast out from the world of PC gaming and treated like a leper until the end of time.

I do have a bunch of well-rounded reasons for not being excited over Skyrim. They all come back to a root cause; Bethesda.

I bought Fallout 3 about 18 months ago. I’ve played approximately two hours of it.

I got Fallout: New Vegas last year as a Christmas present. I’ve not played it at all.

I bought Oblivion during the Steam Summer Sale this year. I’ve played exactly 60 minutes of it.

Now at this point I’ve probably rattled a few cages. All of these games have been adored on such a grand scale, played and replayed by so many, but I just can’t do it myself.

While playing Fallout 3, my first foray into a Bethesda title, I felt insignificant. I felt like I didn’t understand a damn thing about the way the game worked and that I was just blindly winging it throughout the early quests in a nearby town. I had all these points available to spend on skills but not a clue about which would benefit me the most at that given time, nor did I know what I wanted to focus on building throughout my character’s life. I haven’t returned to it in over a year.

Why, then, did I even bother with starting Oblivion? For the same reason that I wanted to try Fallout 3; critical acclaim. I feel like if I’m going to be a decent games reviewer, to have a knowledge of these sorts of games may well be crucial, as they come up in conversations all the time. As I played through the first hour of Oblivion, I felt less intimidated than I did with Fallout 3, but I still couldn’t shake this feeling of not knowing what the hell I was doing or what I was building myself up to be in the many hours to come.

So when it’s come to Skyrim trailers and the like, I’ve seen a lot of cool things. Dragons! Flashy spells! Big environments! But with each cool thing has come a nagging doubt: ‘Bet I won’t be able to kill dragons.’ ‘Bet I won’t be able to work out how to do those flashy spells.’ ‘Bet I’d get lost in those mountains there.’

The most annoying thing about all this is that I know it’s all wrong. I know there’s some accessibility to Bethesda’s games that I’m missing (for the purpose of this blog post, we’re forgetting their other games beyond what I’ve listed; Brink etc) and I’m sure that it boils down to them being an ‘acquired taste’ or me just having to stick with it. So I’ve come to the conclusion that before I buy or play Skyrim, I want to finish either New Vegas or Oblivion. This is just to prove to myself that I can commit to and finish a Bethesda game, so that suddenly Skyrim is not a scary thing but instead, something I can look forward to playing and throwing my life into just like everybody else.

So the last time I did a bloggity post I talked about how Valve were the best behaved bastards I’ve ever loved in their Christmas Steam sale, which overdraws millions of people every year. This time I’m going to be talking about a very similar thingy. Assuming you have any interest in Portal 2 and have had access to the internet for the last week or so, Valve have been running an ARG to promote it and that culminated today with a countdown. Speculation was rife that the countdown was to the release of Portal 2, but when it hit 0 all we got was another page; which GLaDOS has named ‘the final challenge’.

Potatoes are Valve's favourite fruit

The Potato Sack has been on Steam for a while, offering 13 indie games with strange, often tenuous links to Aperture Science involved. The final challenge requires that we (and I do mean we as a collective unit of gamers) play anywhere between one and all of these games in order to speed up the launch of Portal 2. Otherwise, it will launch on its previously announced date of April 19th.

Great, right? Well, no. Not according to some people.

Some people reckon that if Portal 2 is ready, why should its release be delayed? Why is it being surrounded by this marketing bullshit?

Here’s why I think you’re misguided:

Firstly, Valve are not delaying the game. We’ve known for a long time that Portal 2 will be released on April 19th. They are giving us a chance to play it sooner than that. In what universe does this mean the game is delayed? Heck, in what universe is this morally or ethically wrong to do? There are worse things to do to earn an early release of a game than play some indie games, after all.

Secondly, ‘marketing bullshit’ has never been quite so interesting. ‘Marketing bullshit’ is when Rio Ferdinand shows up to an event in London to play the game, claiming it to be the finest gaming video he’s ever played then leaving 20 minutes later to claim his cheque. This has been an ARG that has captured the interest of thousands. People have been on treasure hunts around Seattle, people from all walks of life have been chipping in with pearls of wisdom to help figure out the next stage and now we have this; an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of gamers to collaborate towards the release of one of the year’s best games. This isn’t standard rubbish you’d see a typical developer do, this is something that’s taken days of effort and coordination that only Valve seem capable of pulling off.

Don’t want to play any of the games in the Potato Sack? Fine, thousands of others will. Just realise this; Valve are doing us a favour, continuing to show us why [standard PC blogger gushing] they’re the best developers in the world. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, lest you never be fed another potato again.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 223 other followers