Tag Archives: valve

What I Want from the New Console Generation

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The reign of the launch-day killer app is over.

The launch line-ups for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, both due out by month’s end in North America, include no game-changers, no Halos or Mario 64s. New consoles are now sold more on the promise of innovation and multimedia integration than they are on a single game any self-respecting manchild simply must own by Christmas Day. Perhaps that’s for the best, the thrill of the console launch replaced with appreciation for the medium’s continual evolution. Yet here we are, weeks away from newer, more powerful gaming devices, and I’m still not sure what gamemakers hope to achieve with them beyond making things bigger and shinier. Perhaps we’re at the point where games are a robust and diverse enough medium that console generations are no longer indicative of their evolution. Perhaps AAA developers just didn’t have an innovative way to shoot people in the face ready for launch day. Whatever the case, new tech and rapidly changing distribution methods will undoubtedly alter the games industry; here are a handful of ways I think those changes could be for the better.

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Don’t Worry About Half-Life 3

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Prepare for foreseen consequences.

Last week, digital distribution giant and IRL Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium Valve Software unveiled three announcements about their plans to hurtle PC gaming into the living room. These reveals included a brand new, Linux-based Steam OS; a variety of hackable “Steam Machine” gaming computers available at different price points; and finally (and perhaps most intriguingly), a state-of-the-art controller, supposedly compatible with any game on the Steam service. The controller especially looks like the sort of forward-thinking experiment in play we’ve come to expect from the billion-dollar, flatly organized tech behemoth; it uses sensitive trackpads instead of joysticks, and contains an unobtrusive touchscreen. Developers from across a variety of genres have playtested it, with mainly positive results. But one conspicuous thing stood out about the controller, the last of the highly secretive reveals: It wasn’t Half-Life 3. Continue reading

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Half-Life: Full Life Consequences (2006)

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Video games indulge their audience more than any other artistic discipline. If gamers line up for a franchise, its publisher will release increasingly uninspired yearly installments, until there’s not a cent left to be made. If players enjoy a certain side character, he will almost certainly return for his own spin-off series. Gamers have a hard time letting go, because they’re so used to getting more, more more. More DLC, more character packs, more endless franchises. They whine when a title gets delayed, and then complain it feels “rushed” upon release. They want constant content, but they also want it to consistently meet their expectations.

So it’s not hard to see how fanfiction reared its ugly head among this madness. Fanfiction allows distraught gamers to access more narrative threads within their favorite fictional worlds, indulging beyond the mere vision of the game designers. Didn’t like the ending to the latest Mass Effect? Write a new one where Shepard throws her crew a big goodbye party! Fanfiction is largely about taking control of a cultural object and finally, truly making it your own. Is it powerful beyond the solipsism and complete disrespect for authorial intent it represents? Sixty billion Fifty Shades of Gray fans (a book that famously began as Twilight fanfiction) can’t be wrong.

Yet every so often, a fanfiction author emerges who is so attuned to the world of his obsession — its tone, its themes, its characters’ dialects — that he not only validates the genre’s existence, but provides a fresh, worthwhile take on a beloved property. Through his capable prose, the form actually transcends mere indulgence and speaks to the fan in all of us, encapsulating what lured us to the source material to begin with. Of all the fanfiction masterpieces recognized as worthy successors to their originals (citation needed), perhaps none is more monolithic, more perfect, and more real than Fanfiction.net author Squirrelking’s magnum opus, Half-Life: Full Life Consequences. Continue reading

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Portal 2 (2011)

If you want the clearest summation of how¬†Portal 2 differs from its predecessor, simply look at the cores. Portal 2‘s final battle – almost structurally identical to the original game’s – finds Chell attaching “personality cores” to bumbling companion-turned-adversary Wheatley, attempting to corrupt his programming and return Aperture Science to its rightful (if still slightly skewed) order. “Wacky” doesn’t even begin to sum up these eccentric, chatty spheres, each offering up so many lightning-fast quips that one is tempted to ignore the boss fight’s time limit and simply enjoy these characters’ ramblings until the facility explodes.

If nothing else, the cores are the purest expression of writer Erik Wolpaw’s gift for deadpan insanity since¬†Psychonauts’ “Milkman Conspiracy” level. Yet for all the left-field absurdity of the rough-and-tumble Adventure Core (voiced by Nathan Drake himself) and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it foreshadowing of Portal 2‘s lunar resolution by the so-called Space Core, the conclusion lacks the thematic and emotional depth of the first game’s encounter with GLaDOS. That confrontation saw Chell disassembling her AI tormentor’s personality cores and stripping her of her most basic emotions. The result was a villain equally harrowing and hilarious, and a final battle that perfectly captured the dichotomous relationship between well-intentioned scientific objectivity and the petty, cold-hearted hubris often lurking behind it that defines the Portal universe. The fight with Wheatley offers no such metaphor, sacrificing it for one-liners and distracting action. I still enjoyed every second of it, but that’s Portal 2 in a nutshell: Bigger and more crammed with (usually wonderful) ideas, more audaciously willing to follow its bliss for laughs and entertainment, but less interested in the thoughtful, dark-edged cohesiveness that rendered the original one of gaming’s most indelible narratives. Continue reading

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Half-Life 2: Episode Two (2007)

For all its grimness and despair, for all the death and malice that finally creep past City 17’s anonymous citizenry and zero in on Gordon Freeman’s closest friends, Half-Life 2: Episode Two is attempting a celebration. It’s an insiders-only affair, a product created by and for those with such boundless affinity for the franchise that it is comfortable risking moments more brazenly comic and outright tragic than any found in the rest of the series. It’s “fan service” to its core, not just trotting out easy references and beloved characters expecting us to cheer in mere recognition, but also using its established toolkit and bond with the audience to strengthen and stretch its universe’s connective tissue. Simply, this is Half-Life at its most comfortable with just being Half-Life, and for every lateral step that entails, it also allows for some leaps forward and maybe even a little self-reflection. Even the original Half-Life‘s nuked microwave casserole returns as the crux of an antagonistic relationship.

Valve’s employment of this insular fan club shorthand is, for better and for worse, a result of its full embrace of the serialized storytelling required by the episode format. Continue reading

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