It’s a bad time to be a map traditionalist in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

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There’s a new Dust 2 in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Valve has upgraded and overhauled the mainstay map of Counter-Strike players once again. Beyond a spiffy coat of paint, Valve has made changes to the map geometry to improve readability and smooth out any rough areas to refine movement. For example, bombsite B’s car prop has been moved slightly towards the center of the courtyard to provide more cover and open up the corner, a hole in the wall has been shifted and widened, and telephone poles have been done away with entirely.

Counter-Strike vets are discovering all sorts of changes, good and bad, in the new map. Some long-cherished grenade throwing spots have been negated with blockages. Sight lines have been adjusted. Some passageways have been tightened. It’s stuff that a newbie might not put much importance on, but to folks that literally make their living by playing the game, the differences can be extremely challenging.

Western and Trail are the easy parts of Great Western Trail

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There is a place in my neighborhood that serves a killer salad: bleu cheese crumbles, dried cranberries, and red wine vinaigrette. That’s it. Each flavor complements the other, in just the right proportion. The greens are excellent. It is primarily a cocktail bar, but the staff clearly understands taste. There is nothing in any of their dishes or drinks that isn’t there for a very good reason: because it makes it better.

There is another place around here that serves salads they call “famous.” They’re basically a huge stack of those everything nachos you can get at upscale sports bars but without the nacho chips. They have a million ingredients, which might lead to clashing flavors except the ingredients are all so bland you don’t notice. They are basically a way for you to stuff your face with a salad because that’s what you like to do.

Point salad games can be one of these two things. Guess which one Great Western Trail is. Continue reading →

People like the most boring characters in Dungeons & Dragons

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Thanks to the number-crunching wizards at FiveThirtyEight, we now have scientific proof that Dungeons & Dragons players are a mostly uncreative lot, preferring to stay as close to the mundane as possible. By partnering with D&D Beyond, FiveThirtyEight was able to look at the data of over 100,000 players and see what they liked. Surprise! They like the safe and familiar. The most popular character race and class combination is the dull human fighter. The old sword and board, hacking away like a lumberjack at a log pile. The next most popular character type is, of course, the elf ranger. Lots of Drizzt and Legolas out there.

Pity the poor Aasimar or Aarakocra as the least popular races. Presumably, they hold that dubious honor because no one even knows what they are.

Imagine going on a Destiny 2 strike with this player on Halloween night

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John Carpenter is a Destiny 2 fan. It doesn’t seem like that’s in a paid endorsement way either. The famous Halloween composer and director was asked by The Guardian what he was up to as the lead question of an interview. His answer? Destiny 2. A lot of it. Enough so that it’s become his life’s work.

I’ve heard of that. Isn’t it really hard and involves shooting aliens?

Oh, it is hard. That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to learning how to play it. At my age why not? It keeps me out of trouble.

If Michael Myers had been addicted to Destiny 2, “The Night He Came Home” may have turned out a bit differently. Less killing and more farming for loot.

The good news for gamblers is that loot boxes aren’t gambling

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The Entertainment Software Rating Board says loot boxes are not gambling. An ESRB spokesperson told Kotaku that the organization classifies loot boxes, like the ones in Overwatch, Battlefront II, or Middle-earth: The Shadow of War, as they would blind card packs in collectible card games. While you may not get exactly what you wanted, you do get something for your money, unlike a real-world wager that can result in just a plain loss of money.

“Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.”

The ESRB does have a Real Gambling descriptor that results in an automatic Adults Only rating for a game. “Player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency.” They also have a Simulated Gambling descriptor that specifies that no real money is involved.

Calls for the ESRB to classify loot boxes as gambling have ramped up in recent days thanks to the proliferation of the business model in some high-profile games. Despite experts pointing out the addictive qualities of loot boxes, (some of those same experts were even hired by game companies to design loot boxes for maximum effectiveness) the ESRB says otherwise due to the technicality of most systems not allowing a zero payout. Get on it gamblers and addictive personalities! Loot crates are okay and they’re not opening without your help!

The guy that helped you last week in Ghost Recon Wildlands could be your nemesis

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Ubisoft is adding a free player versus player mode to Ghost Recon Wildlands. The new Ghost War mode features competitive 4v4 multiplayer matches with special classes on eight maps. Players choose from twelve classes like a drone-equipped Scout or a sneaky Assassin and use their Ghost Recon shooty skills to annihilate each other in virtual Bolivia. It’s no Battle Royale, but there should be plenty of headshots, explosions, and cursing.

There’s good news for Ghost Recon Wildlands’ cooperative players as well. The latest title update changes the game’s networking model to include relay servers to help connectivity.

Ghost War for Ghost Recon Wildlands is out today on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Due to technical issues, the PC version will be updated on the 12th. Ubisoft is also promoting the game with a free demo weekend from the 12th to the 16th.

Wherefore art thou Shadow of War?

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Middle-earth: Shadow of War may have a sexy femme fatale Shelob, a lispy boss voiced by Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani, blinged out gangsta orcs, and loot crates galore, but it’s not all a bastardization of Tolkien’s books. The game has one thing that is 100% a reflection of the literary works. Poetry puzzles! In Shadow of War, you can find ancient texts that need to be translated, which amounts to multiple choice poetry Mad Libs. “In the land of Mordor where the BLANK lie…” Drums? Spiders? Shadows? Crates? Fill in enough blanks to complete the poem, and you’ll get a rare bit of in-game loot. If the developers had added elvish karaoke or hobbit dancing minigames, the adaptation would be perfect.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War launches on October 10th.

Offworld Trading Company gets totes adorbs

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Just because you’re a Serious Thinking Man Strategy Game About Supply and Demand doesn’t mean you can’t goof around. For all its hardcore cred, Offworld Trading Company has no compunction about using cute cartoony artwork for the factions in its superlative dynamic campaign mode (seriously, if you’re afraid of Offworld Trading Company because you took a creative writing class instead of Econ 101 in college, just click on Single Player Campaign already). But now it’s taking some of that charm and whimsy planetside, front and center, smack dab in the middle of the gameplay. Today’s Conspicuous Consumption DLC — I guess the name Mars Party Pack was already taken — lets you swap in new versions of some of the buildings.

Hacker Array: Enjoy a “Las Vegas” feel with a roulette wheel or embrace the retro style with an old radio tower.
Offworld Market: Send your goods offworld in a giant popsicle or a sleek retro rocket.
Optimization Center: Burst some bubbles with a bubble machine or conduct some electricity with a massive Tesla coil.
Patent Lab: Research patents inside a giant Rubik’s cube or a sci-fi robot head.
Pleasure Dome: Dance off inside a fun time disco ball or skip the dancing in a neon diner.

Sure, it’s $3 DLC. But you know you’ve spent more than that on League of Legends skins.

Forza 7’s very important people are even more important when they yell

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While most players agree the the actual racing in Forza Motorsport 7 is solid, the business model and some significant changes to the series’ caRPG formula have come under fire. One of the controversial decisions was changing the VIP member rewards. In the past, players paid a premium for the VIP editions of the game and they received exclusive cars, doodads, and a crucial permanent 2x multiplier to their race payouts. Fans ordered the VIP upgrade for Forza 7 based on this, but when the game launched, many were disappointed to find the VIP rewards were primarily temporary consumable multipliers based on the new in-game loot crate system. To make matters worse, the original wording of the VIP page failed to mention the changes. Despite adjusting the text of the VIP content listing after complaints, Forza players have continued vocalize their displeasure. The temporary boosts weren’t worth the price.

Turn 10 and Microsoft have relented. VIP membership is being changed to work like the previous games. VIP players will get four exclusive cars, 1 million in-game credits, and a permanent double credit bonus to race wins. Once again, gamers’ have complained, and a developer has made good based on that feedback. While Turn 10 and Microsoft likely won’t change course on the Forza 7’s loot crates and how they influence the caRPG loop, one can hope that future iterations will take the lesson to heart.

Being a shovelware developer on Steam just got a lot harder

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Valve is cracking down on shovelware and games that violate their sales policies. Last week it was reported that Valve quietly de-listed hundreds of games from Steam. Most of the affected titles were part of the “asset-flipping” scene, that is, games made very cheaply by using pre-made textures, models, and sometimes whole game systems offered from various sources such as the Unity Asset Store. While there’s nothing wrong with using community-made assets, many of the games in question did so to meet the bare minimum requirements for being sold on Steam and offer trading cards. As explained by Valve in May, these developers primarily intended to profit off trading card sales over the sales of the games themselves. In fact, the “card-farming” scheme usually started by getting the keys into as many gamers hands as possible via cheap bundles or even giving them away to seed the card generating population.

Polygon communicated with Silicon Echo Studios, whose entire catalog of more than 200 games was de-listed as part of the sweep. (You can see a pitch for one of their games here.) According to the studio, they were unfairly targeted and their games were sold with full disclosure to their customers. The studio did acknowledge that they played fast and loose with the letter of the rules, but no harm, no foul.

“We are no heroes, we have indeed sometimes been conducting our business with some practices people may call shady.”

Silicon Echo Studios has since closed their doors, presumably because their business model was destroyed. It’s a wake-up call to indie developers determined to game Steam. You can get away with a certain amount of goofiness thanks to the company’s reliance on community policing, but there is a limit. Valve is watching, and at least in terms of messing with their money, they do not abide tomfoolery forever.

The larger debate on whether or not Valve is acting fairly continues. It’s their store and their rules, but some people have expressed displeasure over the fact that Valve changes the rules without warning. How then should others trust that the rules won’t change against them? In the short-term, just what is Valve doing to combat shovelware that doesn’t violate their card-farming rules? Steam is a large enough presence in the industry that anything Valve does can have wide-ranging effects on gaming. For example, Valve can close a studio with relative ease.

Can we get a physical version of every Pinball FX3 table please?

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Now that Zen Studio’s Pinball FX3 is out and people are racking up high scores on every table, it’s a good time to take a look at how real pinball machines are made. The A.V. Club journeyed to Chicago to check out Stern Pinball’s wizards constructing these magnificent arcade games. Laying out the tables, choosing parts, putting it all together. There’s something satisfying about seeing all the bumpers, rails, and doodads being assembled to make something you’ll soon be cursing and tilting while drinking a beer.

Since a physical pinball tournament is hard to coordinate across the globe, join us in the forums for the Quarter to Three Pinball FX3 score chase. Hurry, before the scores get too high!

Star Wars: Battlefront II, no, the other two, gets restored multiplayer

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You can wait until November to play Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Frostbite Engine powered multiplayer, or you can fire up Star Wars: Battlefront II from 2005 now and play the newly re-enabled multiplayer for this classic title. According to the announcement, up to 64 players can now fight over the fate of the Star Wars galaxy on Disney’s servers. Official multiplayer for the game has been missing since GameSpy shut down their servers in 2014. While third-party servers have existed to fill the gap, the presence of an official multiplayer solution is welcome news to old-school fans.

Star Wars Empire at War regained multiplayer capability in September.