G2A, Gearbox, and the Problem of Good and Evil

The recent Gearbox-G2A-TotalBiscuit debacle (reported on excellently at Vice’s Waypoint by Patrick Klepek over a series of news articles here, here and here) that was the result of a deal struck to officially distribute Bulletstorm via G2A, was in the offing for the longest time.

It had to happen, because the legitimate online price-race (one that has now cooled, to be frank, after several online retailers have been, or are in the process of, shutting down shop) drives a portion of consumers to find the best available price every time, and every time they are caught unawares by the illegitimate practices of various services such as Cdkeys, Kinguin and the titular G2A, it is principally because of the way we are being sold games, and because of a lack of consumer education.

Therefore, such a burst of activity around this topic has been a good refresher and reminder to gamers that not all is above the board with these cd-key shops. Of course, by now it should be so very clear to all of us that anything that has the word “keys” plastered to it is morally bankrupt in the general view of the retail establishment. But it isn’t, and won’t be, not until the system changes – and that change will probably be to the worse.

The thing is, the framing of Gearbox’s brush with the Bad Guys was largely from the point of view of the scorned developer, as with the help of TotalBiscuit, Gearbox navigated the situation deftly and swiftly, which had the unfortunate side effect of distorting the crux of the issue, and perhaps side-stepping other relevant questions of digital distribution that absolutely led into the intended (or unintended) result of blending questions of legitimacy with illegitimacy, and proper practice with improper practice.

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Payday 2, “Death Wish,” and Binary States

Over here at The Slowdown, I like and try to produce criticism on things that I enjoy, and things that I think are good. This is often (cough, preposterously) visible on the website. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t just “play” games, too.

One of these games is Payday 2, the sequel to 2011’s Payday: The Heist, a 4-person co-op cops-and-robbers FPS that came hot on the heels of the foundations laid down by Left 4 Dead. Copocalypse, anyone? Credit where credit is due: Not only are both games excellent co-op shooters, but the game’s developers, the Swedish Overkill Software, have pretty much a perfect track record of community support and management so far.

In fact, I would point @Overkill_TM out to any aspiring developer as an example of how to masterfully utilize Steam as more than just a platform for selling games; Payday 1 was well-supported enough, and Payday 2 on the PC has received a constant stream of community-oriented events, content updates, and patches1.

On the whole, I am a big Overkill fan, and a Payday one, too, and it seems many, many others are as well: With Overkill owners Starbreeze Studios signing a new 2-year, $6 million extension deal with 505 Games, it’s not surprising that Overkill have now deployed yet another update to the game.

All that aside, the all-new “Death Wish” update, however, is a curious case of a developer failing to see the forest of their core mechanics for the trees. “Death Wish” is, simply put, a mind-boggling move from the otherwise reliable studio.

Read on to find my PSA-like analysis on why.

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  1. Console owners have been left somewhat wanting due to a multitude of reasons, but let’s brush that aside for a moment []

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Steam Treasures: SteamWorld Dig Review

It’s time to bring back our Steam Treasures series.

With hundreds and hundreds of titles now receiving the all-important right to be on Steam – through Valve’s Greenlight initiative (that Gabe Newell now wants to do away with) – the idea of a “jewel” of an indie game somehow “making” it through to the service (against all odds!!) no longer carries the same much any weight.

Where Valve’s standards may have changed (for better or worse), ours haven’t: In this series, we review budget-sized, budget-priced, big-small games that deserve to be added to your Steam library, period – even, when they’re not currently in a bundle for beans! Our first new entry to the series, then, is none other than the aptly-titled SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt. SteamWorld Dig Logo

Curiously, the game’s developer, the Swedish Image & Form, actually did not target Steam first, as the game found its original home on the Nintendo eShop. Even on the Nintendo 3DS – a system I don’t currently own or have access to – the game immediately caught my attention due to its colourful look and feel, cute robot designs, and overall Steampunk shenanigans.

Ultimately, nomen est omen, and so forth, and we computer folks ended up receiving a full OS smorgasbord, from Windows to OSX to Linux, all via Steam. I was overjoyed to discover the game was to be ported so quickly over to PC – there still exist footage of me posting awful puns on Twitter. That’s how excited I was about getting to play the game.

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Anodyne Review

Anodyne, a top-down action-adventure by indie devs Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka, is one that I doubt I would have touched if not for the all-new, shiny, and glittering Steam Trading Cards. (Valve are very, very shrewd.) That Anodyne’s in-game progression is also tied to gathering collectible cards in-game has quite the poignancy to it. Above all, it makes the two a perfect match, and Anodyne was unsurprisingly among the titles that received trading cards during the Trading Cards beta.

Cards or no cards, however, Anodyne does warrant a fair bit of attention on its own merits: It is an infectious, solid action game on the one hand, and a strange, befuddling and rambling one on the other. It is above all a game with the face of Janus, looking to the future and past at once, a hodgepodge of influences permeating from top to bottom, starting with the game’s uncommon visual aspect ratio of 8:9.

Its two-faced nature is surprisingly not off-putting in the least. Instead, I found it nigh-impossible to put the game aside while it remained unbeaten. Anodyne’s cleverly organized, free-form model of progression, and beautiful audiovisual aesthetic beckon the player to continue onwards and upwards until the game is decidedly done. What greater compliment, really, for a video game: Just one more level, one more card, one more bar of health, one more boss! And then: Bang! The game is done, phew, in five to seven hours of gaming (though it can be ran through in three). (more…)

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Top Five Left 4 Dead 1/2 Custom Campaigns

In August 2010, Chet Faliszek announced Valve would begin to rotate biweekly custom-made campaigns on the official servers of Left 4 Dead 2:

Every two weeks we are going to feature a new community campaign on our servers. We will feature one campaign at a time to make it is easier to find games. We’ll be keeping it featured for two weeks so people can familiarize themselves with the maps for competitive play.1

Though we wholeheartedly agreed with Valve on their choice to start their campaign off with 2 Evil Eyes, their subsequent picks have not been as bold as we had hoped, as the team has since gone on to pick Detour Ahead, City 17, Haunted Forest, Dead Before Dawn, One 4 Nine and I Hate Mountains. Now that the slow trickle of maps seems to have dried up – sans Cold Stream, of course, which is still a river running wild – we wanted to introduce to old and new players alike a list of five great Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 custom campaigns – that is, the best maps Valve is yet to highlight.

We applied a loose criteria to this list of Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 maps. First and foremost, each level was to be available for both games. Second, we expected proper playability on the “expert” difficulty setting. Third, all these levels enjoy a degree of popularity in the community, so as to make finding servers and players easier.  Fourth, we did somewhat consider artistic merits like overall look and feel, setpieces, setting and brushwork.

Fifth, we also sought out campaigns that would adhere to the gameplay standards and Left 4 Dead fiction as defined in practice by Valve. This meant no nasty surprises, traps, or major changes to campaign flow. The reason all the campaigns below have been tested and completed on the “expert” difficulty level is because we found that this particular setting best reveals the extent of balancing (or lack thereof) in terms of campaign length, pacing and structure.

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  1. http://www.l4d.com/blog/post.php?id=4194 []

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