Who Wants to Work for Valve Games? Everybody, Ever.

I know that working for the company who put out the Portal and Half-Life games would be sweet, but apparently being a Valve’er is held in even higher regard than you’d think.

When asked by International Game Developers Association (IGDA) “what developer/publisher would you most like to work for?” Valve came out on top of the list – despite there also being the possible answer of “for my own company”, which came second.

Yep, you read that properly. Out of 2,200 developers surveyed in the whole industry, more people would like to work at Valve than start up their own development company.

Valve games logo

To be honest, I can understand why. From what we see in gaming news – lawsuits between companies over who’s to blame for badly-received games, fans expressing their rage over the exact timing of ‘timed’ exclusives, and even where the worst games are buried – it takes a lot of work to start up a games company when there’s so much competition and so many hair-trigger-temper players just waiting to bury your reputation – and your stock value – with one below-average expansion pack.

So when it came to the crunch, the majority of respondents went for Valve instead. And why not? Here are three things that really set them apart from the rest of the games industry:

  • They’re privately owned. So immediately Valve can draw its own map, and make the games it really wants to without pressure from investors and corporate backers to rush a game out for Christmas, or do yet another instalment of Call of FIFA.
  • They’re flat – or at least, they claim to be. As a non-hierarchical company, everyone at Valve is on a level pegging – even founder Gabe Newell, apparently. This obviously doesn’t mean that people don’t take charge on the big issues, but it can be merely a case of the most experienced person making those decisions rather than any chain of command. To my untrained and non-corporate eye, this seems pretty ideal.
  • They created the Portal and Half-Life games, for god’s sake. Isn’t that enough of a reason to make a company stand out? Plus, if you ever did get a job there you’d be well-placed to call a meeting which consisted simply of you scrolling through slides of Gordon Freeman standing next to a big fuck-off number 3. Now that’s good business strategy.
Half-Life 3

“Only got the one slide to show us, Vincent?”
“Well, yeah, but I think it gets the message across nicely. THREE!!!”

And if you needed any more persuading, the Valve employee company handbook is one of the greatest pieces of business documentation I’ve ever seen. And I should know; I’ve written a fair few myself. Read it and be inspired. And keep nagging your Valve employee friend to make Half-Life 3 if you have one.

The Top 10 games developers from that survey by the IGDA:

  1. Valve
  2. My own company
  3. Activision Blizzard
  4. BioWare
  5. Ubisoft
  6. Current employer
  7. Nintendo
  8. Naughty Dog
  9. Double Fine
  10. Bethesda Game Studios

WoW: Warlords of Draenor Gets November Release Date

The next World of Warcraft expansion promises…time travel?

If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet given up on the soul-sucking chore that is apparently playing World of Warcraft, you’ll be keenly aware of the announced release date for the next chapter in the never-ending story. (Not that one, although any quests involving riding Falkor would be pretty sweet.)

WoW Warlords of Draenor announced

Announced at BlizzCon 2013 by Chris Metzen during the opening ceremony, Warlords of Draenor will have been a year in waiting by the time it’s released – long enough for the diehards to break the whole thing down repeatedly, and certainly long enough for the fair-weather fans to decide if they want to spend a long time maxing out their characters ready for the next ten levels.

Yes, if you’re in it for the long haul, you’re finally going to reach Level 100. A century; which must be how long it feels like between expansions, but with this Blizzard have also announced their intention to release more regular updates – once per year according to Greg ‘Ghostcrawler’ Street, lead systems designer.

“We find that expansions are what bring players back to World of Warcraft,” he explained. “Really good patches will keep them, but they aren’t as good at bringing players back to the game.

“We really want to get to a cadence where we can release expansions more quickly. Once a year I think would be a good rate. I think the best thing we can do for new players is to keep coming out with regular content updates.”

Anyone with an eye on the subscribers will know that the base always jumps up a bit in the lead up to a new expansion, before tailing off again once everyone has either a) completed the new quests and levelled up in quick style, or b) got sufficiently pissed off enough at the daft difficulty spike to stop trying.

And the new storyline could be enough to pique the interest of long-lapsed players, as the events played out at the end of Mists of Pandaria lead to the creation of an alternative timeline which prevents the destruction of the orc homeworld Draenor which occurred at the end of Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal.

That’s as spoilery as I’m prepared to go at this point, but I’m sure you all know the story if you’re reading this.

By going back on their own lore, Blizzard could lure in some of the older generations of Warcraft players but risk the wrath of others. We’ll find out in November what the community makes of this but until then, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments box.

Christopher Evan Welch will be missed on ‘Silicon Valley’

I definitely had to give Silicon Valley a go when I first saw it advertised on Sky Atlantic; a sitcom about a group of programmers trying to make it in the cut-throat tech industry, created by Mike Judge.

And although the first couple of episodes were pretty slow going, I have to admit I’m absolutely loving it now – but now that the programme has lost its single funniest character it’s going to be a tough few weeks while I try to get my head around the tragic death of actor Christopher Evan Welch and how it will change the show.

peter gregory silicon valley

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Welch acting in anything before, although going by his IMDB page it’s quite possible that he’s just one of the people that makes you point and say “that guy…” whenever he pops up in something else – the first example that springs to mind being…that guy…y’know, the one who was in Bones and 24 and House and Damages and…

But his portrayal of eccentric tech billionaire Peter Gregory is absolutely amazing. He steals every scene he’s in and plays that type so well – an undoubted genius who never learned how to be sociable with it – that the rest of this first season will be all the poorer for Welch’s death.

According to fellow cast members on a Larry King interview, Welch was 48 when he died of a heart attack having recently been treated for lung cancer – a sudden shock when everything was looking brighter. Welch looked in good enough shape in the programme that it had to be sudden – and it was sudden for me too to find out the reason for his reduced role on IMDB after I’d had enough of saying “that guy…” but was laughing so hard in the process.

 

(I strongly recommend you watch this scene too; it’s even better but sadly unembeddable. Yep, that’s a word now.)

For Welch, I can finish that sentence now: “that guy…was an incredible performer.”

Silicon Valley has quickly become one of my favourite programmes, and a good deal of that was down to Christopher Evan Welch. It’s really sad to lose him especially as this was more than a good bet for his breakthrough performance.

Rise of the Tomb Raider will be XBox exclusive

New Lara Croft game won’t be playable on PS4 or PC any time soon.

Do you remember last June, when Sony and Microsoft showed off their next-gen consoles, and gamers took opposing sides based on which hardware looked better, and which had the better game incentives, and which had the better casual setup?

Remember when the game franchises started getting divvied up between the two, and people were forced to make their final decisions on which console to opt for – that is, if the final decision wasn’t both?

Well, this is a bit of a bummer for anyone who thought that the resurgence of gaming icon Lara Croft was good news for both sides of the next-gen divide, as a pre-Gamescom announcement from Crystal Dynamics head honcho Darrell Gallagher confirmed that next winter’s Rise of the Tomb Raider will be an XBox exclusive.

Rise of the Tomb Raider XBox exclusive

It isn’t known at this time if the game will be launched for both XBox One and the XBox 360, but it’s certainly bad news for any gamer who went with the PS4 this time around. The first in the rebooted series of Tomb Raider games has sold over 6.5 million copies to date – that’s for XBox, Playstation and PC, mind – and was met with great critical success too.

Writing on the official Tomb Raider Tumblr blog (Tomblr?), Gallagher clarified the decision.

“Our friends at Microsoft have always seen huge potential in Tomb Raider and have believed in our vision since our first unveil with them on their stage at E3 2011. We know they will get behind this game more than any support we have had from them in the past – we believe this will be a step to really forging the Tomb Raider brand as one of the biggest in gaming, with the help, belief and backing of a major partner like Microsoft.

This doesn’t mean that we’re walking away from our fans who only play on PlayStation or on PC. Those are great systems, with great partners, and amazing communities. We have Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris coming to those platforms this December, and Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition is available on PS4.”

Offering your support to a fledgling developer in return for console exclusivity is one thing, but having sold a million copies in 48 hours, does a franchise as phenomenally popular as Tomb Raider really need that extra support? I can’t help but feel the Playstationers are getting a raw deal here. Getting the sequel to a Lara Croft game whose dialogue and plot were by some accounts “cheesy and forgettable” [Gamespot] and “the weakest parts” of the game [IGN] isn’t going to satisfy the fans who were hooked on Croft’s character development in the proper reboot.

It could be that at some point down the line, Sony will be able to release Rise to their consoles, as the definition of ‘exclusive’ hasn’t yet been made public – but with the console war still raging on, XBox could be on their way to closing the gap with the news that Canon Lara is for Microsoft players’ eyes only.

 

Is TNA Wrestling Finished?

Thanks to an old-school Russo Reveal, American wrestling’s number two promotion could close down after Spike TV pulls the plug.

This all sounds quite familiar to me – a TV company drops a wrestling programme leading to fears for its future. And although it’s 2014 and TNA does its best to rise above some of the muck that WCW was turning out towards the end of its storied history, some of the same hallmarks which led to the former Jim Crockett Promotions being acquired by business rivals WWE in 2001 are starting to show in America’s current #2 promotion, TNA Wrestling.

is TNA wrestling finished?

In late 2000, WCW was staying on the air despite heavy financial losses because of Ted Turner’s loyalty to the product, a product which thanks to the likes of Vince Russo had shown a drastic decline in quality; business had seriously picked up (as Jim Ross would say) over at the WWF during the previous year with The Rock and Triple H at the head of a company that was enjoying the most success in the mainstream since the early days of Hulkamania.

When Time Warner merged with AOL to force Turner out of his own company, all WCW programming was cancelled – a decision which severely reduced the value of the company and forced producer Eric Bischoff to pull out of a deal to purchase WCW.

At the time WCW was itself beginning to pull out of a creative nosedive thanks to the reins finally being handed to younger, self-made stars like Booker T rather than having the old hands calling the same old shots. But the damage was done and, in March 2001 the final WCW Monday Nitro program featured live link-ups with WWF Monday Night Raw as the latter’s poorly-received Invasion angle began once WWF had purchased WCW.

Fast-forward to today and, while I definitely don’t see history repeating itself the way it did in Panama City 13 years ago, the same danger signs are there for TNA, beginning with Spike TV’s announcement that it won’t be renewing their TV deal for TNA Impact Wrestling. Although there’s still a long way to go before the deal expires in the autumn, losing a major source of income like TV after some very harsh cutbacks have already been made can’t be good news for fans of the Impact Zone.

Not that there are that many there, or on the road. Attendances have been anaemic at house shows, and photographs taken at their annual showpiece Bound For Glory from last October demonstrate perfectly the problems the company is having in engaging their audience.

According to reports by Dave Meltzer, Spike TV had a huge problem with TNA using Vince Russo as a creative consultant. The same Vince Russo who, in one of his trademark worked shoots, called Hulk Hogan a “goddamn politician” back in 2000, when Hogan played his creative control card to secure yet another WCW World Title – by having Jeff Jarrett lay down for him. (The same Hulk Hogan who signed a staggeringly massive TNA contract in 2009 for what turned to be precious little return, but that’s only another factor in their money problems).

Jeff Jarrett lays down Hulk Hogan

I never even liked Jeff Jarrett, but the poor sod didn’t deserve this.

During a previous Russo run at TNA, Spike were very upset at some of his more controversial angles – including regular occurrences of male-on-female violence. (Of course, none of this has anything to do with TNA’s biggest hook of late – tune in to Impact and see Bully Ray finally put TNA owner Dixie Carter through a table!) The main issue is that Spike did not know that Russo was on the payroll until recently, when he accidentally sent an email to wrestling reporter Mike Johnson rather than commentator Mike Tenay.

And so, their trust violated that TNA wouldn’t do such a silly thing as rehire a man who was persona non grata with Spike, the channel has reportedly decided not to renew – leaving TNA’s future very unclear indeed.

Despite my personal dislike of most of TNA’s work for the past decade, I personally think this is a blow for pro wrestling; their authority unchecked, WWE may not feel the need to grow and develop their offering. I’m not saying TNA were ever at the heights of WCW’s run – far from it – but with no mainstream alternative it’s going to be hard for fans to get their fix of wrestling if Spike decides not to renew.

Comic review – ‘House Party’ by Rachael Smith

Nostalgia is a big thing for geeks. Literally meaning ‘aching for a return home’ it’s typically used by cynics who will always tell you that things were better in their day. I felt a fair amount of it last night at a party as I listened to songs which remind me of the good old days.

And it’s the good old days that the main characters in Rachael Smith’s new graphic novel ‘House Party’ are out to recapture.

Rachael Smith House Party comicFinding Michelle, Siobhan, and Neil now we learn about each of their passions and how real life has taken them down a different path to the ones they’d rather be on. Michelle used to be a writer and the darling of the university cool kids but now she works in an office and misses that great inspiration, while Siobhan’s art and Neil’s stand-up have gone much the same way.

In order to regain their rockstar status, the three decide to throw one of their legendary house parties, just like the old days – and with Smith’s compelling mix of relate-able characters, humour and drama you’ll find out how that turns out for them.

All my life, nostalgia is something I’ve struggled to get my head around. Even when those best times of my life were supposedly happening, no doubt I’ll have been too busy fretting about something or other to properly enjoy it. This near-existential angst is a universal experience and within the pages of House Party, Smith has expressed brilliantly those exact same struggles and curiosities we all feel about the way things used to be and how we strayed so far away from them.

Rachael Smith House Party review

As I mentioned in an earlier review – for the equally wonderful I Am Fire – you wouldn’t expect such deep and meaningful issues to hit home in a comic when there are far weightier books to do the job, but here as always Smith has created a full and frightening world in which the reader can understand and sympathise with her characters as they make the hard decisions and express their turmoil very effectively, with great writing and art working so well together.

If you’re of that certain age where life was just better back then, dammit – I can’t recommend House Party enough.

QuakeCon 2014 vs DashCon 2014

Con season is upon us…

…and while fans of fragfests gathered online and at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas for QuakeCon, organisers of another convention are throwing out apologies like confetti as the DashCon trainwreck rolls on.

QuakeCon 2014

QuakeCon 2014 looked like the usual massive success you come to expect from a company whose fans started throwing it for them in the first place; with a new Doom 4 reveal (which turns out to be called just Doom) and some sweet tournament action which I streamed on Twitch – and didn’t understand a word of the commentary. Something about stacks, apparently they’re a handy thing to have, and LGs – which I eventually realised meant Lightning Gun. Okay, I’m not much of a deathmatcher, never was. But there you go, at least it looked like everyone was having fun…

…Unlike at DashCon, an event so dedicated to Tumblr users that Tumblr wouldn’t let them use the name for fear of association. And rightly so; the first thing non-attendees were treated to was a video of the organisers asking those in the main ballroom on opening night to donate everything they could towards a funding shortfall of $17,000 – or risk having the con shut down by the hotel then and there.

I remember the first time I ever booked bands to play upstairs at a pub, and all the advice I received from a lot of very knowledgeable people who out-and-out told me that I should not only be ready for, but expect to lose money. We’re talking fifty quid for the PA, a twenty-quid deposit cheque for room hire – to be cashed if anything was broken or missing – and a reasonable amount of petrol and beer money for the bands who played. Nonetheless I still assumed that, with the bands I had playing, how could I not make it all back and then some, even for only three quid on the door?

Luckily I still took the advice on board and wasn’t feeling (financially) hurt about the fact that a lot of people who promised to show up did not. I was okay with it because I looked at it a different way; I had a fucking great time watching my favourite bands and seeing some friends. Totally worth the investment, and totally worth not attempting again for a long time afterwards.

Now imagine you’d already paid the best part of fifty quid to hang out at a con, see some celebrity guests and have a great time. Now imagine the celebrity guests won’t be coming. Now imagine you’re being asked to give even more money to keep it going. Tough sell, isn’t it? To the tune of almost twenty grand, yes, that’s a tough sell.

There are many good accounts of what happened that weekend from people who went, people who went but left, and the people who memed the shit out of that ‘free extra hour in the ball pit’ nonsense – look them up, there are plenty of posts.

DashCon 2014 ball pit extra hour

The DashCon organisers themselves have an account of what went down that weekend on their front page (as do one of their guests – theirs is much funnier), but from the mountains of unnecessary screenshots of bank statements and email exchanges, it’s another lesson they’ll have to learn…before they apparently start organising next year’s event.

If even DashCon aren’t too disheartened about all the abuse they’ve taken for this, then goddamn, maybe it’s time I booked another gig. Oh, but I’m sorry to announce that Queens of the Stone Age have pulled out, and I need £500 from everyone in this room by 9.30 or else the landlord’s gonna kick us all out.

Remembering: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Commemorating Neversoft closing down with a look back at their seminal video game.

Anyone who hit a certain age and cultural taste at the same time as I did will be just as upset to learn of the closure of game developers Neversoft this week – 20 years after they were founded – to be absorbed by Activision-owned Infinity Ward; I expect they’ll be working on Call of Duty 36 before long rather than one of Neversoft’s older, more original games, but it was one of their earlier hits which I can honestly say is responsible for one of my all-time nostalgia pangs.

Neversoft took over the Guitar Hero series of games from its third instalment onwards, and while I had a lot of fun playing those games, they weren’t made for me; I was already in bands – and that’s quite probably down to one of their own earlier games!

THPS1 Tony Hawk's Skateboarding

The first time I booted up a copy of Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding on the Playstation, everything about immersive gaming came together so beautifully for me, starting with the drum roll intro to the first song on the soundtrack as I rolled down that ramp in the Warehouse for the very first time. (‘New Girl’ by the Suicide Machines, but you knew that already because you own that album as a result of this game too, right?)

I couldn’t afford to buy many games when the Playstation came out, so something had to be really, really special for me to risk it. I didn’t buy this game myself either, to be honest, but it was the very first really, really special game that also turned me onto the whole ‘alternative’ thing. I was already on my way to buying punk rock albums and dressing a certain way – but playing the first Tony Hawk game really made me feel like there was all that cool stuff out there waiting to be discovered.

It’s from 1999 so the graphics have obviously improved these days but back then it looked gorgeous, and in playing terms I felt like there was absolutely nothing like this game out there at the time: fast and furious gameplay, actual mastery of controls to be had (unlike the usual button-bash-fest we were getting from beat-em-ups at the time) and the concept of levelling up skill points to prepare for the harder levels. The first Hawk game also gave me the one key thing that I never had the patience for with games before: practice, practice, practice.

 

I wanted to get better at this game for a variety of reasons. I wanted to see every board design, play as every character, try every move. I also had a bunch of rather competitive friends at the time and wanted to see if I could beat them at H-O-R-S-E. (I never could; as much as I practiced I still had, y’know, a life compared to most of them.)

Most of all, it was just cool. It made me pay closer attention to games and music, not realising until then how beautifully they could come together like they did. I saw a good three or four bands that were featured on that soundtrack (including The Suicide Machines in about 2002, whose singer introduced ‘New Girl’ by saying “anyone here play VIDEO GAMES?”) and bought up all the cool skater stuff I could get my hands on; it’s safe to say I made some…interesting fashion decisions at the turn of the millennium.

But that’s the whole thing about learning to express yourself: if something comes along at the right time with just the right amount of potential, and the right amount of craft and care put into it by the people who love it and embrace it and want to see others sharing in those experiences – games, music, books, it doesn’t matter – then it’s really something special.

The Tony Hawk’s series, and the first one most especially, did that for me.

Plus Guitar Hero was pretty sweet for a while, until they started taking the piss with all the band add-ons.

Thank you, Neversoft, for giving a young man something to obsess over after school and at weekends with his friends. And for putting ‘Bulls on Parade’ in GH3.

Ridiculous Rumours – Steven Moffat and Star Wars

Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat to leave for Star Wars?

Sometimes when you read a rumour online, before you race off to check its authenticity with the star/director/writer you’ll take a moment to stroke your chin and have a really good think about how that might turn out.

I’ve had my share of these in the past; my first real experience was probably a big footballing name being linked with joining Leeds United, or more frequently over the past decade, leaving; before he defected was wished well on his transfer to Fulham last week, Leeds striker Ross McCormack was rumoured to be going to just about any team with a vowel in its name for months. As I mused over each of the possible destinations for the league’s top scorer last season I had a good think about where he would be better off; finally settling on ‘any club that doesn’t treat its players like dickheads’. Call me crazy, but all power to Ross for deciding his future didn’t lie in Leeds. The fact that the club appears to have no ambition right now is, for me at least, a solid enough foundation for a rumour like its best player deciding to leave.

In TV land, it apparently gets even more cut-throat sometimes, but the rumour that TV producer/writer/ninja Steven Moffat is set to take the reins over some aspect of a future Star Wars  production is, again for me, an absolute non-starter.

Doctor_Who_-_Current_Titlecard

I really can’t see why some fans give Moffat a hard time over his showrunning on Doctor Who; I’ve much preferred his run on the show to that of predecessor Russell T. Davies. Moffat is a seasoned storyliner, and while there may be some sci-fi-type blips here and there, he’s been faithful to the programme’s mythology since the get-go; his characters develop smoothly, the performances from his cast have been brilliant, and what’s more – a charge I do lay at Davies’ door in particular – Moffat builds up a story at great pace, neatly and tidily introduces all the necessary plot elements, and can hit all the right notes without the requirement of someone swanning in and deus ex’ing their way to a satisfying conclusion. (I know I’ve mentioned that before, but it was a real issue for a long time.)

With all that (and Sherlock, which I’ll just come out and say I don’t watch) to go on, and the announcement that there will be a series nine of the rebooted Who, why would Moffat choose to move on to Star Wars?

I know there are a lot of people getting hot and bothered about Disney’s plans for a continuation of the Star Wars universe (I myself am maintaining a dignified poise about the whole thing; after all, they’re making more, not deleting current entries) but it strikes me as common sense that they wouldn’t have waited this long and got this far into the whole revival thing before they started tapping up producers of other hit programmes to try and lure them into the fold. JJ Abrams will have been doing absolutely nothing for the past year as he starts to get his head around the whole nasty business of expanding the Star Wars story; isn’t Moffat still well into filming series eight?

Peter Capaldi for Doctor Who?

It’s a daft rumour, it really is – as confirmed by his wife Sue Vertue who tweeted “that’s news to him!”

I firmly believe he isn’t doing it, and only because it’s obvious how much he loves doing this. Any kid who grew up dreaming of being in a Star Wars movie has another chance – but judging by the statement he released when confirmed as the showrunner in 2008, Moffat is already living the dream:

“My entire career has been a secret plan to get this job. I applied before but I got knocked back because the BBC wanted someone else. Also I was seven.”

I also remember during an episode of the Moffat-created criminally underrated sitcom Coupling when lead character Steve does one of his once-a-series monologue rants, lamenting that cushions on a sofa serve no purpose, unlike the sofa itself which you could hide behind in case of…

“…Daleks!”

It’s hardly solid evidence here to dispell a job change, but It’s the little things like that – and bear in mind that Coupling was made a good few years before Doctor Who returned – that make me feel like the programme’s going to stay in Moffat’s good hands, and that there’s precious little danger of him stopping right now; not when there’s a new Doctor to get excited over!

Doctor Who Peter Capaldi