Valve may be able to control the space half of the space-time continuum, but it looks like the “time” bit is still giving the developer some trouble. Portal 2 – originally slated to short circuit gamers' brains in February – has now been pushed into the far reaches of April, specifically April 20. But hey, it's not all bad. Why? Here's Valve's take:
“This two month slip not only marks the shortest delay in Valve's proud tradition of delays, it represents the approaching convergence of Valve Time and Real Time. Though this convergence spells doom for humanity, it will not affect the new Portal 2 release date,” the developer said in an announcement.
Ok, we admit that the “doom for humanity” part sounds bad, but here's the thing: If Valve's track record with Half-Life 2: Episode 3 is any indication, the fiery and assuredly painful End won't come during our lifetimes. Hell, even our children's children probably won't have much reason to worry, although they'll probably be too busy dealing with tyrannical squid emperors and Apple's establishment of the iDeathStar (It forces everyone in the universe to use AT&T wireless! And destroys planets too, we guess) to lose any sleep over it.
It seems like so long ago that we were skeptical Steam could get us to stop bitching about DRM and provide a viable distribution system that both publishers and game players could live with. Well, we're not finished groaning about DRM, but there's no denying Steam does what it's supposed to, and does it well. Perhaps too well.
According to U.K.'s weekly gaming rag MCV, some retailers are threatening to ban games that integrate the Steam service on fears that Steam has a monopoly on the download market.
"If we have a digital service, then I don't want to start selling a rival in-store," said the head of one of U.K.'s biggest gamers retailers. "Publishers are creating a monster -- we are telling suppliers to stop using Steam in their games."
A purportedly big-name digital service provider backed up those remarks, saying "At the moment the big digital distributors need to stock games with Steam. But the power resides with brick and mortar retailers, they can refuse to stock these titles. Publishers are hesitant, but retail must put pressure on them."
Should retailers be concerned that selling games with Steam baked in only pushes users towards buying games through Valve online, or is this just another 'wambulance' call?
When you can boast that your product is the size of two-and-a-half World of Warcrafts, it’s pretty much a guarantee that any numbers you put out will make all the other numbers feel so small and inadequate that only the purchase of a big car or remarriage to a disproportionately young spouse will make up for it. So, with that said, grab a cushion, because your jaw is about to make a crater in your floor.
In the past year alone, Valve’s ubiquitous download service has seen a 178 percent growth spurt in its userbase, bringing its total tally up to more than 30 million. Sales, meanwhile, have jumped up a whopping 200 percent, which probably means Valve can afford to add an aircraft runway to its complementary employee party yacht package. The publisher’s also beaming with pride over its infrastructure, which now runs at 400Gps. According to Valve, that’s enough to “ship a digitized version of the Oxford English Dictionary 92.6 times per second.”
Yeah, uh, your jaw crater? It’s getting a little drool-filled. You might want to clean that up.
"Steam is on track to record the biggest year in its six year history," said Valve president Gabe Newell. "The year has marked major development advances to the platform with the introduction of support for Mac titles, the Steam Wallet and in-game item buying support, and more. We believe the growth in accounts, sales, and player numbers is completely tied to this work and we plan to continue to develop the platform to offer more marketing, sales, and design tools for developers and publishers of games and digital entertainment."
Remember back when Steam first launched, and everyone thought it was gonna be a total flop? Well, consider this Valve’s official response: “Hahahahahaha [sounds of giddy skipping in the direction of a bank].”
Valve kept it short and to the point when addressing a rumor that Steam is getting ready to dabble in used game trade-ins. We'll get to Valve's succinct statement in just a minute, but let's first take a look at the rumor that's been going around.
"Steam gives gamers enough other stuff so that they don't resent the fact they can't trade in their games," Michael Pacter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan, explained in a recent interview with NowGamer. "And you know, name all the Steam games that you've purchased that you've traded back in to somebody else for credit. Steam's about to let you do that supposedly, you know like trade and exchange, but they're going to take a fee from it."
Game publishers haven't exactly kept it a secret that they vehemently oppose the used game business, and we have a hard time envisioning Valve going this route. So does Valve, as it turns out.
"Untrue. We've never met with Mr. Pachter," Valve's Doug Lombardi told BluesNews.
Yes, Valve. Not Blizzard. See, Valve likes to do awesome things, and among those awesome things is offering awesome jobs to awesome modders. So after Defense of the Ancients became the second most addictive landmark in Warcraft history (you know, after that one thing), Valve scooped up one of the gametype's more prominent creators – a guy who goes by the name of “IceFrog” – and set to work on scraping away the crusty remains of the fittingly ancient Warcraft III engine, giving the whole production a nice, even coat of Valve polish, and adding some potentially game-changing community features.
The gist of DotA, for the uninitiated, goes like this: players each take control of a single super-powered fantasy hero, who they then evolve and level-up over the course of RTS-style matches full of constantly spawning CPU armies. Basically, think Demigod and you'll be on the right track.
So, aside from graphics that won't leave your eyes feeling like you just took a dip in a pool full of lemon juice, what's Valve bringing to the table? Well, with the exception of snarky voicework and bots to replace players who disconnect, most of Valve's biggest contributions are focused on the community. Most interestingly, the developer's adding a coaching system that rewards experienced players for taking defenseless newbies under their wings. In-game rewards will also be handed out for other aspects of community participation, although Valve hasn't quite finalized how the system will work just yet.
"I think the interesting thing is us adding a second layer where the community is a service to each other. That's the real shift that we're trying to build here. Valve is going to keep building software around Dota and around the community and around Steamworks for Dota, but we're also going to build this system where the community can bring service to each other and be recognized for it," project lead Erik Johnson told Game Informer.
Valve also compared its plans for post-release support to Team Fortress 2, which is the kind of promise we'd scoff and dismissively readjust our monocles at if it wasn't coming from Valve. The bottom line? Whether you're a diehard DotA fan or you just scanned MPC, saw the word “diehard,” and started daydreaming about Bruce Willis, this is one to watch. 2011 can't get here soon enough.
Right now, Left 4 Dead 2 is cheaper than its own strategy guide. Yeah.
In honor of its brand new free DLC campaign – which brings back the original Left 4 Dead cast for a bit more zombie slaughter and a whole lot more one-character-of-your-choice-dying-permanently – Valve’s slashed the prices of both Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 to a mere $6.79 a piece. We don’t know what you did to piss Valve off, every zombie ever, but from where we’re looking, it seems they’ve signed your death warrant. Or re-death warrant. Whatever.
So basically, if you’ve yet to give either Left 4 Dead a try, there’s no better time than now. Free DLC, nearly free games, and more zombies than you can shake a green, disembodied hand at; there are “deals” – like the kind you see on the Home Shopping Network – and then there are real deals. And then there’s the kind where you get to shoot things. Can you guess which one this is?
It’s hard to maintain any kind of neutrality when writing about Valve’s Steam service. Indeed, it’s hard to write anything about Steam without adopting a grin the size of a cartoon character and lavishing compliments on the service faster than needles firing out of a medic’s syringe gun.
The recent partnership between AMD and Valve that put an easy-to-access, “download new video drivers here please” tool within the game-drenched packet manager has been an unexpected-yet-delightful addition to the service. And I’ve said it before: It’s about time.
However, it's also time for hardware manufacturers to step up to the challenge of releasing clean, comprehensive drivers for their full product lines--legacy hardware included. More importantly, Valve needs to take its little "AMD experiment" as more than just fun dabbling. As gamers and enthusiasts, we're way overdue to see someone rise to the occasion to deliver a one-stop shop for zero-hour driver updates that gamers of all backgrounds deserve to have.
And yes, if you say, "What about Windows Update," I'm going to throw up.
The title pretty much says it all, but that won’t stop me from using the next few lines to remind everyone how much we still love free Left 4 Dead DLC, especially when our console counterparts are stuck paying for it. The Sacrifice campaign which will launch on all platforms October 5th will be a bit of a departure over past offerings since it will support both the original Left 4 Dead along with the sequel.
This odd combination continues to mix things up by allowing those who play the new campaign using the sequel to finally control the original crew alongside all the new special infected that made Left 4 Dead 2 such a huge improvement.
If you’re eager for more feel free to check out the official web comic or teaser trailer to help tide you over until October 5th.
Hooray! Another free update for Team Fortress 2! But this one, er, asks you to spend money. Easy now, put down that irate message board post. You wouldn't want to do anything you'll end up regretting, after all. Plus, this isn't quite as bad as it looks. Don't believe us? Let's hear what Valve has to say.
“We never really think about the money TF2 makes when we’re thinking about what to do. In this case, the thing that we are trying to build is a framework for a more robust collaboration with the community on content creation. This has been one of TF2’s main drives for some time now. In other games, community creators build content after the release, and it forever remains inaccessible to most players,” Valve told our sister site PC Gamer, who – as per usual – leaped all over this story like a rabid fox that's mistaken your face for a delicious baby bunny.
“We view the Mann-conomy as the next, crucial step in the evolution of how communities interact with products. Now they’ll not only be able to contribute to the product, they will be directly compensated for their work.”
Oh, there's also this exceedingly important bit from Valve's Mann-conomy FAQ:
“Our plan is to continue updating TF2 just like we always have, adding free maps, game modes, new features, and more. The Mann Co. Store is simply an alternative way of obtaining items that other players can earn during gameplay.”
Phew. Plus, almost every item – aside from a few minor cosmetic ones – can be unlocked through traditional means such as random drops and crafting, in addition to new methods like trading and winning mid-match duels. Yes, duels. Now you can daintily slip off the white lace glove of war and slap someone in the face with it. If they accept your duel challenge, they'll be highlighted during the match, and the game will keep track of how many times you've killed one another.
Currently, Valve's marketplace features a smattering of its own items and 17 new community created items, which – according to Valve – equate to “about five new class updates.” In the words of some guy on the street we just talked to: “Yeah, I guess it's a pretty big deal. Who are you? You said there would be food.”
From the folder titled “Wait, what?” comes word that Valve’s initial concept for Portal 2 was a bit avant garde – even for Valve, the studio that brought us such hits as “MIT Scientist Fights Aliens,” “Cartoon Mercenaries Kill Each Other for Hats,” and “MIT Scientist Fights Aliens Again.” See, Portal 2 was going to give the portal gun the weighted companion cube treatment. That’s right: no more portals.
“One of the ideas was: what if the Portal franchise is, instead of always being about Portals – which’d be tough because it’s called Portal – but what if it was always about introducing a new puzzle element that you’re going through? it’s about Aperture Science, and now you’re going through this new testing track with this new element,” writer Erik Wolpaw told PC Gamer.
You can probably already see, however, where this is going. Wolpaw continued:
“We pretty quickly found that, even though we had a couple of pretty interesting mechanics, that people would always, to a person, every play tester we had would say, ‘Yeah this is alright, but where’s my portal gun?’”
As a result, gameplay mechanics like puddles of goo paint with different, gameplay altering properties switched from being central mechanics to a secondary ones, and thus, the Portal 2 we all know and love was born.
So hooray for that. Sure, we love a good brain teaser and all – so we can understand where Valve was coming from -- but it doesn’t take too much gray matter to figure out that maybe removing the feature that made your game so popular in the first place isn’t the best idea -- especially when you're dealing with a horde of easily outraged gamers.