Half-Life “Epistle 3” game jam gives us hope

Remember several weeks ago when former Valve writer Mark Laidlaw leaked a plot synopsis for “Epistle 3” with gender swapped characters?

It felt like closure, but deep down, we still want Half-Life 3, or Half-Life 2: Episode 3, or just any game to give us some real closure, right? We don’t care about the name!

On the back of Laidlaw’s disclosure of his vision for the plot, a game jam is being hosted over on itch.io, inviting anyone to make Epistle 3, using Laidlaw’s plot synopsis as the foundation.

There’s no restriction on genre or art style, creators are invited to go wild. A number of first-person shooters are in there, mostly using the Unreal 4 engine, but at least one is based on Unity.

Buried within these entries could be “the one”

The good news? This game jam has been going on since August and ends on October 31st, so it’s almost over. This means, I’m hoping, at least one of the current fifteen entries will deliver something promising by the end of it. I think it’s safe to assume Valve will never make the game, but maybe someone else can.

The Crowbar Collective are doing a great job recreating the original Half-Life in the Source engine, Black Mesa is not finished after over 10 years, but what’s available so far is excellent. They’re working on the final “Xen” alien chapters, which were notoriously bad in the original. The current claim for that is December as a “do-or-die” deadline.

What’s the longest you’ve waited for a game to be released? Are you still holding out for something, or have you aged significantly and given up?

Weekend gaming deals, there’s a few! [Expired]

These links are only good for the time frames mentioned, also, they likely only apply to the UK or EU.

The Witcher

All of The Witcher series is on sale on multiple distribution platforms. It’s the 10 year anniversary of the franchise, Rock Paper Shotgun have summarised the prices nicely, so I won’t bother to repeat it all. I believe you’ll also find them on the Xbox and PlayStation Stores discounted too. This is a very good time to pick up these titles.

Steam

  • After a Steam Link, so you can play PC games on your TV? This is an interesting bundle for £7.09, the likes of which I don’t recall seeing before. A discounted game called ICEY, bundled with a Steam Link that is 98% discounted, making the Steam Link £0.80. What? They get you on the shipping though, which is £7.40. Crafty…
  • Weekend sale on the Fallout franchise, if you haven’t jumped in yet, what are you waiting for? I put it off for almost 10 years and regret it now, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do! (Offer ends Monday at 10am Pacific Time)
  • Weekend sale on Codemasters titles, driving fans rejoice! But hey what is this? Unlike the usual Codemasters sales on Steam (so DIRT), there’s some other stuff heavily discounted this weekend I’ve never heard of. Toybox Turbos, Overlord? Sold! (Offer ends Monday at 10am Pacific Time)

News has also reached the internets this evening, originally via Reddit, of the upcoming dates for Steam’s Halloween, Black Friday and Winter Sales. It appears the original source has been removed, but Eurogamer claims to have corroborated said source. I always take this stuff with a pinch of salt. My wallet is ready Valve.

Xbox Store

  • Fallout 4 is also on sale here, good work Microsoft on the busted links taking me to and from the US store! I lost my patience with this so I gave up looking for anything else…

PlayStation Store

There’s so much going on here, including 27% off Destiny 2 and a Halloween sale. Daniel New over at Thumbsticks.com summarises it all beautifully.

Humble Store

Green Man Gaming

I’ve used this site a few times to get games cheaper than anywhere else. Their current VIP deals (which you can access by creating a free account) are pretty interesting, they’re offering discount vouchers for select sale titles and preorders. It’s often a bit of work faffing around with the codes, but you can usually get a worthy discount.

Square Enix

Square Enix have apparently re-launched their store, so they’ve decided to have a sale to celebrate. There’s some good bargains to be had here, in particular Just Cause 3 XL, and Rise of the Tomb Raider but that’s just scratching the surface really. They’ve got a whole bunch of gaming merchandise on offer too, so if that’s your cup of tea, head over there and take a look!

If there’s anything I’ve missed or any of these links are broken, feel free to let me know in the comments, otherwise I’m off to spend some money and play some games!

EGX 2017: Tracks – The Train Set Game

There’s really only one word I can use when describing Tracks – The Train Set Game, that word is “delightful” and I think most will agree. It is the most chilled out game I’ve ever played.

I missed playing Tracks during the EGX event, but in the days which have followed – after one of the group I went with explained his time on the show floor with the game – I have purchased the game four times. That’s one copy for me and everyone else I went to EGX with. We were all so intrigued by our friends description of what he’d played, and since I’d somehow completely avoided buying a round during our brief visit to the Friday evening party, it had to be done. That is particularly evident when the game isn’t much more expensive than a bottle of beer was at EGX…

I’ve only spent an hour and a half playing so far, but the core controls can be picked up in a matter of seconds, there’s recently been an update to improve the tutorial a little too. The game looks gorgeous, which surprised me. Who knew a wooden train set and associated props could look so good?

Your imagination can run wild, sadly mine lets me down when given a completely blank slate, which is an option in Tracks. If you so desire, you can start with a single train and a single piece of track, with a large blank area to get creative. There’s also a “living room” level, where you can throw what look like giant sofa cushions on the ground to raise the terrain. There’s sofas, big screen TVs, dining chairs and tables. Like I said, delightful.

This isn’t Minecraft, or SimCity, but it does scratch that itch, a little bit, so if you’re into that sort of thing, or trains, or have small children, you must check this game out.

It’s in Early Access at the moment, with no definitive release window, but they do plan to support Steam Workshop in some fashion. Billed as “very much a sandbox right now” which I’d agree with, it’s already a very fun (if limited) sandbox at this stage, well worth the small asking price.

You can read more on the developers site about how it came to be. Here’s a few screenshots for you!

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EGX 2017: Impressions From A First Timer

I’ve been meaning to go to EGX for a few years now, I finally made it this year for two days, Friday and Saturday, something of a work outing in the end, with four of us from the day job going along.

Thinking about it, this was my first experience of a gaming event in the physical world, not just my first EGX. What a sheltered life I’ve lived! It was a positive experience on both days, but with nothing to compare it to, the bar doesn’t have to be that high to start with…

I didn’t play much, I was happy to just meander around and soak up the atmosphere. I was a little surprised at the popularity (and presence) of stuff which is already available to buy, such as Destiny 2, which featured prominently.

Here’s what I did play though…

  • Forza 7 (on the Xbox One X in 4K, with a controller, very smooth)
  • Project Cars 2 (on a very small TV/monitor with a controller, also enjoyable, I was very bad at this)
  • Gran Tourismo Sport (in the Tron like steering wheel setup, then again with a controller; close tie with Forza 7, the first GT game I’ve ever played)
  • ARMS (on the Switch, great fun, almost made me want to buy a Switch!)
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (So bad at this, the demo ended due to a time limit)
  • Absolver (surprisingly satisfying melee combat, I’m intrigued)

There were a few big titles I didn’t play myself, as the queues were insane and I didn’t have the patience to wait, but my companions had the dedication; their comments in brackets.

  • Sea of Thieves (“Concerned about what there will be to do in the full release, lives and dies by the team, but it was fun.”)
  • Far Cry 5 (“Feels like every other Far Cry, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but…”)
  • Destiny 2 (“It’s more Destiny, I loved the first one.”)

Some stuff played by others in my group…

And some of the stuff I watched… I spent a lot of time watching people play, which I find myself doing more in general these days.

  • Star Wars Battlefront II (the PlayStation Access team live streamed this for a while, highly entertaining)
  • Monster Hunter: World (queues for this seemed big, never heard of it myself, it looked interesting)
  • Destiny 2 (didn’t feel compelled to play on console, still waiting for the PC release, fun to watch though)
  • Cuphead (guys I watched said “Damn, this is difficult!” and it certainly looked it)

The tickets for EGX are pretty cheap, the venue is huge. This is definitely something I will do again, probably the full four days, because I only scratched the surface.

It felt very much like everyone was just hanging out really, I particularly enjoyed chilling out reading a gaming magazine, sat on a beanbag with Destiny 2 in the background. I may have accidentally appeared in the background of an interview with a Bungie Community Manager!? I was only there for the free jelly beans!

We left a little earlier than I’d have liked on Saturday, so the Cosplay competition was sadly missed –  there was some great cosplay to be seen. I also didn’t get to see the Outside Xbox live show, or spend any time at all playing the many titles available in the retro area, which all looked fantastic. It was great to see how popular this was, particularly with the younger generation, who probably didn’t see any of the hardware when it originally released. The CRT televisions were nice to see too! My knowledge of Indie games is woeful, I wish I’d made time to visit that area.

If you’ve ever thought about going to EGX, but you’re put off by social anxiety, the location or something else, I can tell you the NEC is very easy to get to, you’ll also be in the company of (mostly) like minded people. I highly recommend it.

Here’s the obligatory image gallery, which is a bit ropey, as I bought a new phone the day before!

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Borderlands 2 turns five

Borderlands was a love which began with the first game of the series, after getting bored with Call of Duty and Left 4 Dead games, as well as waiting for Valve to release another installment of Half-Life. I don’t recall where or how it came to my attention, but four of us ended up playing through the campaign when the game released in 2009. Three of us later started on the first DLC and didn’t finish it.

This was a pretty different game for me, although I’d always been into FPS games, Borderlands introduced me to something I’d never experienced much of previously, RPG elements. The developer, Gearbox Software, married the FPS and RPG perfectly, so without realising it, I got a taste of something new.

Borderlands 2 came out some 3 years later, in 2012, so the usual suspects gathered and played, reaching a whopping level 13 before everyone else got bored.

This time I knew it was at least playable solo, although not ideal, so I finished it on my own. Every side mission, many hours of inventory management (which there was never time for in coop), all the DLC as it released. I reached the maximum level of 50 (at the time) and a sense of satisfaction that I’d really played the game, finally. It was fun, but it still wasn’t coop, which is where the real amusement begins.

Gearbox released two expansions, both raising the level cap by 11 each, making the maximum level 72, but also introduced an arena; completing this allowed you to obtain level 80 gear, as well as fight level 80 enemies (above that in some cases) throughout the game.

borderlands2-72unlock
This is as far as you can level up your characters, but the equipment and enemies go to 80, so we’re not done yet!

This was the real deal, how the game should be played, but when I tried to go solo in “Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode” between level 50-72, it was just insanely difficult for me. I was a few hundred hours in, but I was now resigned to the fact I would never achieve these lofty heights. After a hiatus, during which I revisited the original Borderlands and all of it’s DLC, two crazy things happened.

The first was persuading Jon to start going through Borderlands 1 with me, from the very beginning, with the view to taking our sweet time, getting as far as we could, but just 2-3 hours a week on a Sunday morning, no pressure. We finished the first game, then all the DLC, having a blast along the way. Then we moved on to Borderlands 2 to do the same.

The second was persuading my brother-in-law, who had tried Borderlands 2 previously, to try it again. Secretly I was trying to recruit more players. When I asked him what class he’d tried, although I can’t remember what his answer was, my reply was “That does not suit what I imagine your play style to be, try the Commando instead.” He did, then he was hooked. Really hooked.

Playing Borderlands 2 exclusively all week every week, before long, he caught up with our little Sunday morning play through – at around level 60 by that point – then overtook us! He completely left us in the rear view mirror.

The whole “no pressure” thing, at this point, kind of went out of the window. The brother-in-law made it to the arena where you fight through the overpower level challenges, intended for up to 4 players, then started to solo them while he waited for us.

By this time, I was hungry for it, the sweet victory of reaching maximum level, that shiny gear… there was no way I could do this without friends, but would I have any friends left at the end of this?

Brother-in-law made it to an impressive overpower level 7 of 8 without us, he just kept farming new gear and trying over and over for days until he’d get through. Eventually, we caught up with him through those short Sunday morning sessions. I admit, I think we played during the week too by this point…

We thrashed through the Overpower levels together, for the most part, until we were all on the final stage. This is where the nightmare began, we just couldn’t get through the final stage together as three. One particular section about half way through – where four challenging enemies spawn simultaneously – kept besting us every single time.

It seems when I started my play through with Jon, I’d picked the wrong character myself! I visited his house one weekend, he told me to “try the Siren” he was playing for his own solo run, around level 34 by that point.

Now I was properly hooked too. As it turns out, part of the joy of this game is trying characters and play styles you wouldn’t usually gravitate towards. I’ve always gone for the Commando class, but now I’ve had fun playing almost all of them, except the Psycho. I leave that one to Jon.

While we kept trying to beat OP8, I started a new Siren character and took it to level 72 solo, with full time dedication; this was some of the most fun I’d ever had playing the game solo, it was incredibly satisfying. Brother-in-law helped me get through OP1-7 without so much as a blip.

One evening, armed to the teeth and now sporting an Overpower Level 7 Siren, with oodles of confidence between us, the brother-in-law and I tried “one more time” to complete the arena and unlock Overpower Level 8. By now, I was several hundred hours into this game and what had once seemed so far off had been tantalisingly close for so long.

It was the sweetest of victories, finally we reached these lofty heights, I think on that first attempt, but honestly it’s all a blur now.

borderlands2-op8unlocked
After what felt like forever, we made it.

The farming for OP8 equipment began, then we ran through the final stage with Jon as three again, so he could join us!

What followed was another couple hundred hours taking on raid bosses never attempted before, taking more characters through to the max level, lots of gear farming and just a sense of relief that we’d broken this barrier holding us back.

Honestly, it completely sucked the fun out of the game for so long, being beaten over and over again at the same point. It became a hideous grind rather than what I believe most of us would say video games are supposed to be, which is fun! Borderlands 2 is so much fun, despite the horrible experience we had getting through to the max level, the enjoyment quickly returned.

About fifty hours shy of a thousand hours play (personally), we kind of all stopped playing. The Division was released and we lost my brother-in-law, he’s still playing that almost exclusively to this day. Jon is notoriously a “finger buffet gamer” in that he likes to play lots of different stuff, so he most definitely moved on too, scarred for life from the arena.

borderlands2-shooteverything
Shooting things features very heavily, guns are randomly generated

I couldn’t let that remaining 50 hours taunt me, so I jumped into random public Steam groups and open matchmaking. I spent about 100 hours at various levels, helping people new get through their first play through, others trying to get through the final Overpower Level and struggling, as we had. I took on some raid bosses at max level I’d never attempted before, or repeated old challenges as a team of four, as there’d only been three of us at most previously.

When writing this article, I started playing again after a few months hiatus; I can tell you, it is the best video game I’ve ever played, so far. In my opinion, it’s definitely the best of the three Borderlands games.

During the journey to max level, I said I’d “never start another character” or “run through from the start” ever again. Turns out that’s complete nonsense, I’m just happy to play the game, whatever the level, particularly with others.

Since you can reset your campaign progress completely, you can start the game at max level (with all your gear) at any time. Couple this with the amount of content on offer, I’m still enjoying Borderlands 2 after all this time, I can imagine another 5 years (but probably not another thousand hours) is easily on the cards!

If this title is on your list, perhaps gathering dust on your virtual shelf, give it a shot. During Steam sales, the whole thing (with all DLC) can often be picked up for about £10, it’s a freaking bargain. It’s some of the finest DLC ever made for any game. The first game is often £5 for everything during sales too, although the main campaign is a little disappointing, the DLC once again makes up for it.

So, Happy Birthday Borderlands 2, bring on the next full game!

Thoughts On The Destiny 2 PC Open Beta

Destiny is another one of those games I’ll “get around to eventually” mostly because it’s only available on consoles. This presents me with two challenges, no one I know to play it with (they’re all mostly PC only), and having to play an FPS exclusively with a controller.

Neither of these things is especially an issue for me now, so I bought the game and all it’s DLC on Xbox One recently, although still haven’t played.

We’re in a position where Bungie believes a sequel will sell in droves and warrants a full PC release. I can still hope for a remaster of the original, because I would definitely prefer to play on PC, but I’m a story junkie, so I’ll happily jump between platforms if I need to.

Lets cut to the chase, the Destiny 2 PC beta was pretty impressive. Visually stunning, solid framerate, great audio, not a bug or glitch in sight for me. Co-op was flawless, no issues starting games, joining each other and so on. The only thing I didn’t get a chance to see was the “social space” made available in the small hours of the last day, because I was asleep for a change.

The general consensus among the four of us who played together? It’s good, but it’s not going to be worth £50. That’s a whole other discussion, I think we’re a bit spoiled when it comes to the cost of games on PC.

Based on my experience of playing the beta, I think it will be a game worth playing. I felt some Borderlands 2 vibes and I was sold within the first few minutes.

With the console version being locked to 30fps, even on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, I think the PC version is going to sell very well, good job it appears to work already then, even with just under 8 weeks to go.

Destiny 2 will be released on PS4 and Xbox One on September 6th. The PC version will be released a little later on October 24th.

Plot For Next Half-Life Game Leaked By Series Writer

Marc Laidlaw, former writer for Valve Software and scribe behind the Half-Life games, cheekily released the plot for the unreleased/made/announced game Half-Life 2: Episode 2/Half-Life 3.

You might be able to read his original post on his site here, which was struggling earlier, alternatively there’s a copy up on Pastebin with the amusing name/gender swaps replaced to their more well known counterparts.

It’s quite a read; using that thing I have called an “imagination” I feel like I played a Half-Life game today, one that I’ve never played before, it’s all quite sudden. I don’t know how I feel about it.

The internet is going understandably crazy about this, with many saying RIP Half-Life 3, feeling the game will definitely never be made now. It reads to me like the end of the episodes and Half-Life 2 story arc, setting up another full sequel which we’ll probably never get either.

I’ve long since given up waiting for Valve to finish or even continue this series, having moved on to titles such as Borderlands, but I have to admit, reading this did make me nostalgic for the games of my youth.

Modding teams, it’s over to you; there’s the plot, you have the technology, make it happen. I doubt Valve ever will.

Hitting Reset On No Man’s Sky

I was there with files preloaded, ready and raring to go, like a couple hundred thousand people, the day No Man’s Sky launched in 2016. That number surprised me, it surprised Hello Games too.

It became obvious fairly quickly there were issues with the game, particularly with that many people playing on day one concurrently; for me, it was mostly performance issues, even with a decent new PC I’d built a couple months earlier.

For the first few days, it was unplayable, the frame rate was unpredictable, it was giving me headaches. I was in denial, I wanted to love this game, I was ready for it to be the one. It was not the one.

After several weeks of trying new nVidia drivers, patches from Hello Games, tweaks from the community, about 14 hours in, I quit, it just wasn’t working for me, on any level, not just technically.

nms-vehicle
Vehicles for mining and exploring, just one of the post launch additions

Hello Games on the other hand, they have not given up on their creation, far from it.

Despite the continued avalanche of abuse they’ve faced since the game was released, they’ve been listening to their community, adding features, fixing bugs. Business as usual.

Here we are, a full twelve months down the line, a third major update has been released to coincide with the 1 year anniversary of the original release. It’s a pretty substantial update in its own right, but here’s a slice of what has changed across three major updates.

  • New game modes (Normal, Creative, Survival)
  • Base building, farming, deploying equipment in the field
  • Purchase freighters
  • Online base sharing, owning multiple ships
  • Numerous graphical enhancements, including high resolution textures, PS4 Pro support
  • Land vehicles, permadeath, photo mode
  • Procedural mission system, 30 hours of additional story content
  • Improvements to planetary biome variety and visual quality, new rare exotic planet types
  • Crashed freighters, terrain editing, portals, low flight, improved space combat
  • Joint exploration, wait what?

OK, now that is interesting. Multiplayer has always been a sore point with this game, many people believe it was promised but not delivered.

Personally I don’t remember either way, but I didn’t buy it for a co-op experience, although I would gladly try it.

Visualised by strange floating orbs, up to 16 players can see and communicate with one another, and explore the universe together.

While interaction with others is currently very limited, this is an important first step into the world of synchronous co-op in No Man’s Sky.

All of this, along with the passing of twelve months, has made me think, “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to start again?”

So start again I shall, heck, they even “reset the universe” for one of the patches, so I’m sure I can bring myself to start a new save and try to love this ugly duckling one more time.

RICO

Cruising through a recent edition of Custom PC magazine (you know, those paper things), I found a little gem I’ve never heard of, lurking in their gaming section towards the back.

 

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RICO is a new first-person, buddy cop shooter from Ground Shatter Ltd, based in Bristol, UK. Apparently inspired by modern action cinema, as well as a number of games, including Virtua Cop, Action Quake, F.E.A.R. and Superhot, the announcement trailer is not subtle by any means, you’ll also need to sign in to watch it, due to the content. It looks fantastic.

The basic premise is; team up with a friend, solve a randomly generated case in 24 hours, by kicking down doors and shooting bad guys. Throw in some slow motion to make you feel like a badass. Job done.

Another welcome inclusion, aside from single player, is the full gamut of co-op support; yes, even local with shared/split screen.

Sadly, it lacks firm release date, even for PC, where it will likely appear first. It’s currently listed as “coming soon” on Steam and “Summer 2017” on the official web site.

Dying Light Gains Some New Content

We’ve been playing Dying Light: The Following for a number of months, on and off, after a group of four of us formed by accident. Frustrations with the matchmaking and other technical issues aside, we’ve all had a blast with it.

After around 30 hours of play, we just don’t feel like we’re even close to being finished with this game. Almost 3 years on, it seems around 500k other players aren’t finished either, according to Techland; this is the number of players still active every week, to this day.

Good news then, as Techland have released the first (labelled #0) of what will now be 11 content releases in total, over the next 12 months. They’re calling this 10-in-12.

On the surface, this looks like a reskin of an existing enemy and weapon, with the usual complaints in the comments on Steam. Techland have made it clear this batch of content is “for the fans” and will be free throughout, which I applaud, so I don’t see what there is to complain about myself.

Maybe we’ll get extra lucky and this will take us through to Dying Light 2?