Fashionably Late: A Daring Critique of Portal 2

By: George Weidman

It took me about a year to start playing Portal 2, with a massively long stint of New Vegas and a frugal college budget holding me back. Ten months ago, it was a conversation with Nathan in a dingy bar that revealed the first hint of negativity that I heard pointed at the game.

“Have you played it yet?” he yelled over the too-loud music.
“Naw,” I said.
“Hmm. Well, I’ll let you decide what to think for yourself,” he replied with a tone of apprehension. “I’ll just say this: Portal 2 is like Wall-E, and Portal 1 is like 2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Both movies are pretty darn good movies, but Wall-E isn’t exactly the same kind of genre-redefining art house piece that was 2001.

There’s a noticeable lack of criticism for Portal 2 that contrasts with the more negative reactions of people I know in person (Nathan isn’t the only one), and that’s kind of unsettling. The anonymous Internet verdict is still singing hyperbolic honeymoon praises over the year-old game and its metacritic score is just barely inching ahead that of its predecessor. I’m here to challenge all that, and I just want to go ahead and say it: Portal 2 is (gasp!) an underwhelming sequel.

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Developer’s Block: Quick Time Events

By Carlin Au

This is where it ends. No more orks to slice, no more daemons to burn. Just me and the Chaos Lord, no one left to interfere. Hundreds of Imperial Guardsmen and my fellow battle brothers have fallen at the hands of this monster. Chainsword in one hand and bolt pistol in the other; these are the tools of his destruction.  I run towards him, chain sword raised and bolt pistol firing, and… ARGH! A quick time event in Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine crushes all hopes to have that nail-biting, teeth-clenching fight against my biggest foe.

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The Worst PC Games of 2011

A few weeks ago, the entire TPG staff offered individual picks for the best PC games of 2011.  We now take a final look back by presenting the worst PC gaming had to offer throughout the course of last year.  Some were highly anticipated titles that broke our collective hearts, a few turned out to be quick cash grabs with no redeeming qualities, while others revealed themselves to be simply awful.

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List of PC Gaming Digital Distribution Stores

The popularity of digital distribution has skyrocketed over the last few years.  In 2011 alone, we saw several new stores throw their virtual hats into the ring.  Although we are saddened by the downfall of PC gaming as a retail buying option, we understand the convenience digital distribution has to offer.  From the obvious to the obscure, the following list is a good starting point to help you discover the vast amount of digital distribution options.

Please note: This list does not include bundle sites such as: Humble Indie Bundle, Indie Royale or Indie Gala.  It also does not cover developer run stores like Her Interactive or Blizzard.  In addition, stores listed as supporting Linux and Mac may not have every title available on those platforms.

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Steampocalypse 2011: The Rise and Fall of a Coal Addict

By: George Weidman

Let this be a cautionary tale. Consumerism is a hell of a drug. Now that the year’s finally over, I won’t have to worry about relapsing soon.

Steam provides a great service but preys on the gullible. I’ve always been a sucker for Steam sales and have bought an embarrassingly huge backlog of cheap games (so big, in fact, that I’ve dedicated a new column to finish them all.)

However, I’ve never been a sucker for achievements. The soap-operatic drama of Valve’s labyrinthine network of achievement-unlocking schemes have always eluded me. This winter, all of that changed. I took a dive into a realm of mercantilism that was inhospitable and brutal, and I became a worse man for it.

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Fashionably Late: Finishing New Vegas

By: George Weidman

“Fashionably Late” is a new pseudo-monthly series where TPG columnist George Weidman shares his thoughts about games past their prime. Think of them as mini-reviews written in an environment where prices are cheaper and hype is quieter, focusing on insightful analysis rather than consumer advice.

I’m shivering a bit while watching the credits for New Vegas roll by, and it’s hard not to feel like I just finished the best game of this generation. It’s also hard not to blame such high praise on the simple measure of its longevity. New Vegas took me 250 hours to finally put down, with most of that time spent playing my second character. Two-hundred and fifty hours, man. Think of the things I could’ve done with that time.

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New Morrowind Overhaul Releases, Collectively Drops Jaws

Version 2.0 of the Morrowind Graphics and Sound Overhaul was released the other day, and it’s made me fall in love with Vvardenfell all over again. Installation is gratuitously fool-proof. So fool-proof that creator “kingpix” made an auto-installer that yanks away control of your mouse and keyboard during the more delicate moments of the installation process. With all options maxed out, I’m playing on a Radeon 6850 at a steady  30 FPS (after installing a small water performance fix) and have enjoyed a mostly stable game with only one odd crash after 3 hours of play. Kingpix also included a list of extra atmospheric mods that play nice with MGSO, which can be found under the “personal suggestions” list of this document.

While the Skyrim modding community has just begun working on their ambitious projects, why not enjoy an already-completed ambitious project for Morrowind? Enjoy the gallery of pretty screenshots below.

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2011 TPG Holiday PC Games Buying Guide

2011: a great year in PC gaming, as far as we here at TPG are concerned. From the AAA titles we’ve held our breath for, to underground mods that blindsided us, here is a list of our individual top games of the year (and the reasons they made the grade).  For all you last minute shoppers out there, you’ve still got a week to grab them before the new year’s games start to roll in, so make sure to pick them up while the holiday sales are still going strong.  While most of our titles were released in 2011, there are a few we were so impressed with, we just could not pass up the opportunity to mention them.

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The Devil in the Details: RRP in New Zealand and Australia

By: Noah Baxter

New Zealand and Australia have long held the short end of the stick when it comes to imported entertainment. Music, books, movies; all of these are significantly more expensive on this side of the world than elsewhere. But here, there is one medium that runs our Oceanic wallets dryer than the rest: the medium of game.

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Words For The Weekend: An Evening With Mr. Moose

By: George Weidman


By the end of my time playing Puce Moose’s New Vegas mod, my whole world was on fire. I had to contact this man. I’ve played other Puce Moose mods before, but this one in particular reshaped my whole opinion about where a game’s story is supposed to be, and what role the player shares in shaping it. I let him know. The ensuing conversation was steamy and intense.

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Skyrim Tweaking for Dummies

By: George Weidman


Day 4: the sun stings. I no longer remember the taste of food or the feeling of standing on my own feet. Skyrim has seduced me into its siren’s call and eaten away the (admittedly pretty scant) remains of what was once keeping me a normal human being.

While I’m destroying myself trying to put out our Skyrim review, enjoy this nifty compilation of community-discovered tweaks and tricks. Some hidden options that Bethesda didn’t include in the game’s option screen including upping shadow quality, view distance, and even fixing a few annoying design decisions that make the interface a notch or two easier to navigate have been tucked away in some config files and are actually pretty easy to dig out. If you’re like me, you’ll still be humming the theme song and wishing you were playing even while editing text files!

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Porn and Literature: Examining Game Stories with Puce Moose

By: George Weidman

John Carmack infamously stated that “Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”

John Carmack be damned. Quality videogame storytelling exists, and it’s not secondary to the action. The narrative weaknesses of Carmack’s own RAGE game may have stirred me into writing this piece up, but I’ve been feeling an urge lately to expose one of the most powerful counterexamples to Carmack’s arguments. Here’s an author who has no professional connection to the game or writing industries, yet has managed to elegantly merge the two mediums together over and over again for three years. He does it as a hobby, for free, as a member of the Fallout modding community. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you one of PC gaming’s best-kept secrets: Puce Moose.

Let me put aside any journalistic pretension of objectivity for a minute. This is an editorial and I’m expressing an opinion, so I feel safe in handing out this shameless endorsement: I’m George Weidman, and Puce Moose is my favorite person on the Internet.

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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but Words Cannot Hurt Call of Duty

By Carlin Au

If games were students at a school, distinguishing their different cliques would be very easy. Games like Skyrim, Battlefield 3, and Batman: Arkham City would be the jocks of the school. Grand Theft Auto, Saint’s Row, and Just Cause would probably be the kids who just don’t care about anything. But, what about Call of Duty? It seems that Call of Duty is in its own category; it’s hated by many, but also loved by many. Those who hate the franchise like to go out of their way to insult it for whatever reasons, but here are a few common ones.

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From Juggernauts to Humans: A Look at Realism in Gaming

By Carlin Au

New games like Serious Sam 3 and Red Orchestra 2 really show how games have evolved in the past two decades. Back in the 90s, you had a gun – you point it at things and they disappear. As technology grew, details like real-world bullet trajectories, and environmental destruction have emerged. It’s no surprise that as technology grows, people will grow too, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, let’s talk about how games have gotten more realistic.

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Words For The Weekend: The Best PC Gaming Bang For Your Buck

By Adam Ames

Here at TPG, we strive to present our readers with the best PC gaming choices especially when it comes to your money.  We complied a list of games currently ten dollars or less which we feel offer superior value in terms of play time, story and fun factor.  Keep in mind these are just a few of many fantastic titles available at the ten-dollar price point so we recommend shopping around before throwing down your cash.  Sure, you could go out and grab some burgers from the local fast food joint, but why not play it safe, stay indoors and bask in the greatness that is PC gaming on the cheap.

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Visual Noise: A Criticism of HUDs

By: George Weidman

Click the images for full-size versions.

Two observations that I’ve made over the past few weeks are that playing Fallout: New Vegas with the HUD turned off is great. Also, virtually all games look better and play better without an HUD. I personally urge all gamers to try this it least once: go HUDless. The rewards are immediate and delicious.

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A Television Channel For Gamers

In terms of mainstream gaming and technology television programming, gamers have two choices: SpikeTV and G4.  Unfortunately, these do not even come close to what gamers want to see.  Gamers want to watch a program devoted to technology and gaming, not a T’n A show.  G4 and SpikeTV are a joke and always will be.  They have no gaming credibility whatsoever and the fact that have to resort to the “hot chick” way of network TV thinking shows their disconnect to the gaming world.

The old TechTV/ZDTV did not have to resort to that kind of nonsense because their shows were actually good.  I never missed an episode of The Screen Savers or Call For Help.  They offered content and had discussions about topics geeks/nerds/gamers cared about. While they did have girls on some shows (Megan Morrone, Catherine Schwartz and to a lesser extent, Morgan Webb) they did not need to jump and run around the set half naked showing their boobs.  This issue is only the tip of the iceberg.  Their award shows are a sham filled with the popular celebs who look like they have no idea what is going on and are told to just smile.

I know there are some quality tech/gaming shows aired via YouTube and a number of podcasts available on various websites, but it would be great to take all of the talent and put it into something like a television channel dedicated to gamers so they can get the maximum exposure they deserve.

After thinking more about what was wrong with this topic, I asked myself if a channel could be created in the same vein as TechTV had done in the late 90s.  Most of the people I talked to believe network executives working today would have nothing to do with what I had in mind.  There would be no bells and whistles or any fluff.  I would not try to be the all-in-one gamer channel where there was something for everyone.  The listing below is pretty close to what I believe gamers would like to see on television.

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DRM: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

DRM. No three letters in the English language strike more fear into the heart of PC gamers.  It should not be this way, but with constant fighting between publishers, developers, pirate groups and paying customers, DRM has become a necessary evil.

OLD SCHOOL

Back in the 80s and 90s, DRM consisted, for the most part, of a multi-layered code wheel and a series of questions answered by that code wheel.  If you played Earl Weaver Baseball in 1987, you remember this very well.  The code wheel was a piece of lightweight cardboard with three circular moveable layers each with a tiny window.  The first layer listed years ranging from 1920 to 1939.  The second layer had player names, and the last, was a stat associated with the listed players.  Before you were allowed to begin the game, you were prompted with a baseball related question: “In 1929, Babe Ruth walked a total of how many times?”  To answer this question, you would have taken the code wheel and adjusted the first layer to show 1929.  From there, you would move the second layer to Babe Ruth, and lastly, find walks.  If you lost your code wheel, other than writing the publisher or developer for a replacement, you were pretty much out of luck.  This was an age where you could not simply execute a Google search for the needed answer.  You had to know what the answer was or have a baseball encyclopedia handy.  In some cases, game companies would ask questions that you could only find in the game manual such as: “What is the last word located on page 11?”  This form of DRM lasted quite a while until publishers started using key codes which they printed on the back of game manuals.

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Where Have The PC Demos Gone?

By – Adam Ames

Over the last 10 years, there has been a drastic decline in the availability of PC demos.  So why have PC gaming companies stopped creating demos?  Who is to blame?  Developers who cannot release a demo due to time constraints or financial reasons?  Publishers who are able to call the shots and simply no longer see the PC as a viable platform?  Perhaps it falls to the PC gamers themselves who shout to the heavens about how much this company or that company screws over PC gamers and ends up buying the game anyway.

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