New Campaign for Left 4 Dead

Crash Course is a new campaign for Left 4 Dead which will be free for the PC, and cost 560 Microsoft points on the Xbox 360.

It looks like Valve listened to user requests for an attack regeneration timer for infected teammates, and a fairer item spawn system. This should improve public teamwork, and prevent balance issues when one team gets loads of items compared to the other.

I suspect Microsoft’s policies forced Valve to charge for this DLC, but it’s nice to see it free for PC users.

Left 4 Dead 2 Boycott

The Steam Group protesting the sequel to Left 4 Dead now has over 12,000 members.

I have a feeling that a good majority of the people in that group will still buy L4D2 when it comes out, and they’ve joined because there’s no harm in tying to get Valve to update L4D1 for free instead.

Left 4 Dead: Left 2 Die

Left 4 Dead 2

Valve’s games are known for their long shelf lives. Just look at the number of people playing the original Counter-Strike 1.6, and the number of free updates which has kept Team Fortress 2 very popular since it’s release in October 2007.

Left 4 Dead was released in November 2008 to widespread acclaim from gamers. It had it’s problems on launch: only two of the four campaigns were available on Versus mode and the numerous exploits and glitches, but the brilliant team-based game play made it an instant hit.

Valve’s decision to announce the release of a sequel just seven months into L4D’s life has angered many gamers in the community.

(Personal note: I paid £25 for my copy of Left 4 Dead and feel it was worth every penny. I could’ve paid £50 and I still wouldn’t feel ripped off. It may be an incomplete game, but I don’t feel aggrieved with the price or sequel at all. What I am worried about is how the community will react to the sequel, and what happens to Left 4 Dead once it’s sequel is released.)

In an interview with VideoGamer, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell promised additional downloadable content, in the way they updated Team Fortress 2:

One of the things that we’re doing is we seem to be in a transition between games as a package product and games more of a service. So if you look at Team Fortress 2, one of things that’s really helped grow the community is the continuous updates, where we release new maps, new character classes, new unlockables, new weapons. And we tell the stories about the characters, like the meet the sniper, or meet the sandwich. And that ongoing delivery of content really seems to grow the community.

So each time we’ve released one of those for Team Fortress 2 we’ve seen about a 20% increase in the number of people who are playing online. And that number is really important because it determines how many community created maps there are, how many servers are running, and so on. So we’ll do the same thing with Left 4 Dead where we’ll have the initial release and then we’ll release more movies, more characters, more weapons, unlockables, achievements, because that’s the way you continue to grow a community over time.

The announcement of L4D2 seems like a complete u-turn on this model, with many gamers saying they bought L4D because they expected Valve would be constantly updating it with new content. A thread on Valve’s L4D2 forum sums up the (nerd) rage being expressed:

  • Significant content for L4D1 was promised, and never delivered
  • Valve put little faith in L4D1 since they almost certainly started working on L4D2 right after release
  • The fact that L4D2 is nearly identical to L4D1 will decimate the community for both games
  • The announced date is not nearly enough time to polish content or make significant gameplay changes
  • L4D2’s release will result in a drop in quality and frequency for L4D1 content, even compared to before
  • The community has lost faith in Valve’s former reputation for commitment to their games post-release

And one more which I think is missed: L4D2 is very similar visually to L4D which would cause it to look more like an expansion pack rather than a proper sequel. This is something Valve can’t do anything about until they update or replace the Source engine.

Judging by the number of replies that agree in that thread (874 at the time of writing), a very significant proportion of the community is pissed, and all the good will Valve got from their spring DLC release has evaporated.

Valve’s Response

Valve has responded to the criticism with interviews for Ars Technica and Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Their response boils down to:

1. Left 4 Dead is not as easy to update as Team Fortress 2

“Team Fortress gets to do these nice little discrete units of content, they get to do a map, there’s an internal consistency and an internal world that happens.” He described the content updates as “clean little things.” Bite-sized updates that add to the game, and over time change things. It’s not nearly that easy with Left 4 Dead, where one change affects nearly everything else.

Fair enough it may be harder to update, but they’re already working on making the L4D maps work on L4D2 so they must have a solution for introducing new content to existing maps.

2. There is a SDK coming out soon for user created maps

All the maps created with the SDK will work on the sequel. As for playing old maps with old characters but new creatures and melee? “We have some additional work to do there, we’re talking about how to do that. That’s what we want to do.”

Great for the PC community, this does nothing for the Xbox 360 community unless they allow a way to import them onto Live.

3. People didn’t feel aggravated about “buying” Half Life 2 again with the Orange Box

The Orange Box contains two expansion packs for Half Life 2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. Compairing the value of the Orange Box (considering I paid £15 for my copy) to a £35-40 copy of a sequel to a game I already paid £30 isn’t quite the same.

4. “Trust us”. We’ll still be supporting L4D

I think the short answer is: trust us a little bit. We’ve been pretty good over the years, even with L4D going back just a few months, about supporting games post-launch. Gabe’s always talking about providing entertainment as a service – it’s not about making a game any more.

Yeah, there’s certainly a chance of [more content for L4D], and we’re not announcing any of the specifics of that today. Like I say, stay tuned, there’s more coming, there’s more information we’re going to talk about for the sequel, there’s more content coming for Left 4 Dead in the fairly near term, that I think will sort of add to this picture and hopefully change some people’s opinions of what’s happening right now.

A lot of the community rage is coming from the uncertainty of what is going to happen to Left 4 Dead. Will it carry on with a separate community, will the content and community merge into Left 4 Dead 2, or will it die a slow and painful death where you can no longer find anyone to play with.

Gamers feel the money they paid for Left 4 Dead might be lost once Left 4 Dead 2 is released, and I think they have a right to be concerned. Hopefully Valve will be able to address this in a way that is beneficial to them and the community, but I seriously doubt Valve will back down and release L4D2 as a DLC now they’ve committed themselves.

Another World Remake in HD

Another World HD Screenshot

The classic Another World game had a remake by the original creator Eric Chahi.

This is old news, however I think it’s worth mentioning as I’ve been trying to play the original PC version on DOSBox, when there’s the 15th anniversary special edition with the bonus level, more enemies, and better graphics in 1280×720 resolution for £10.

3DRealms Shuts Down

No more Duke Nukem Forever, for now. No official statement from 3DRealms has been released, although webmaster Joe Siegler has said:

It’s not a marketing thing. It’s true. I have nothing further to say at this time.

Microsoft’s Woes with the 360

VentureBeat explores what Microsoft did wrong with the 360 in an insightful article:

“Microsoft decided late to add a hard disk drive to most of the machines. It also came up late with a plan to add wireless controllers; all of the previous consoles shipped with wired controllers. The hard drive blocked a lot of the air flow on one side of the machine,” Takahashi wrote. “And the wireless modules had to have enough of their own space to ensure that there was no electrical interference. In the end, the machine was a series of compromises.”

Grand Theft Auto Flawed

Grand Theft Auto IV has had the most positive critical acclaim of any game ever made. And deservedly so, it offers one of the most immersive single player experience any game has every had, as well as brilliantly fun multiplayer. But in the uncompromising praise that has been lavished on the game, many of the reviews fail to devote enough words to the game’s problems, and personally I find the the problems distracting enough to tarnish the game’s perfect status among the press.

Being the most anticipated game ever, Grand Theft Auto IV has a lot to live up to. The first in the series blew the games industry away with its sandbox style game play and story line. It didn’t matter that the graphics were years out of date, or that the controls were baffling even after hours of play, GTA was immense fun for running around killing people and joy riding cars as much as the scripted missions were.

The second game continued in a similar fashion, this time with updated graphics that meant your character looked more like a person and less like a collection of pixels. However, much of the game play was the same, and irritatingly so was the control system. The overall experience made the game feel more like an add-on pack, and Rockstar were really pushing what they could achieve with the top-down perspective.

The third game is what really kicked the series off. Grand Theft Auto III featured a huge city and a new third-person 3D environment that made you feel much more part of the game, with smoke, explosions, and weather and time effects adding to the immersion. Much of what made GTA III great is also in GTA IV, the same sandbox style game play in a 3D environment, the music and radio stations, and the enjoyment from playing the game off-script. However, GTA III was not a perfect game, and GTA IV inherits many of its problems.

GTA IV still suffers from the same combat system from GTA IV, meaning a clumsy auto-aim system that always seems to choose the wrong enemy to target in an intense fire-fight. Manually aiming is so difficult it’s worse than using auto aim in most scenarios, and it takes too much effort to switch auto-aim on and off. This ruins a lot of the combat in the game, which could be a lot more fun if it didn’t feel like the skill was taken out with the poor auto-aim.

GTA IV also features a new covering system, which partially works but is nowhere near as good as the systems in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, or Army of Two. The most tedious thing about a cover system is one that doesn’t work quite as you expect, and this is something like that from GTA IV. I found hitting the wrong buttons too frequent, which would usually end up with sending me into the line of enemy fire, or into a ridiculously exposed covering position.

Driving is much more realistic in this incarnation, with certain cars that under-steer more, and certain cars that over-steer. A nice touch is that you can now fly out of the windscreen if you crash into something substantially heavier or substantial front first, even more amusing when you do it to a passenger in your car or a driver of another car. The camera in the chase view of the car is terrible, making it very difficult to drive at speed without manually turning the camera yourself. I can see why they did it, to shoot out the car you don’t want the camera to move around with every little bump of the car, but on the other hand, it ruins the driving for the other 95% of the time when you’re not doing a drive-by. I actually find it easier to drive and shoot in bonnet view anyway and I have my camera position set to that.

To gain respect with friends and to get them to like you more, you must go out and spend time with them, which involves mini-games or just driving them to a bar or restaurant and back. After the initial novelty of playing pool or darts wears off, this becomes incredibly repetitive and tedious, adding very little to the overall game experience for the time invested by the developers and players. In fact, I can see the developers making this more of an important part of the game if they had spent a lot of time on making it. But really it deserves as much attention as getting dates did in San Andreas (which is not much), as it doesn’t really add anything to the main storyline (said friends will still give you missions whether they like you or not!)

Visually, the fourth in the series is much more impressive than GTA III, Vice City, or San Andreas. That old graphics engine has been stretched to its limit, powering several other Rockstar games, including the recent Bully (Canis Canem Edit). It has been given a complete overhaul in GTA IV, and the overall experience is much better. However, probably because of the sandbox nature of the game, the graphics are still far from the level of a more focused and modern first-person-shooter such as Bioshock, and are more reminiscent of the very early Xbox 360 games like Gears of War. Some textures are very low in detail, and some models are very blocky, which doesn’t detract from the game when you are driving at high speed, but walking around it does affect the immersion.

Overall, I was left underwhelmed after completing the game. The ending is quite a muted affair and leaves the main story on a low (whichever ending you get), hopefully something which the downloadable content for the Xbox will fix. Hopefully, the Vice City and San Andreas of GTA IV will spice up the game and offer a more balanced game play of story missions, and other stuff. GTA IV is a good game, I’ve not yet played the multiplayer enough to fully make up my mind on it1 but the single player has a solid 30 hour campaign. It’s just not quite as good as the single player in Bioshock.

  1. I quite like it at the moment, but I’ve only played about 20 minutes

It Is Over

I take back what I said, on Guitar Hero III, completing DragonForce’s Through the Fire and Flames on Expert with 100% notes hit isn’t impossible. But it is fucking hard.

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