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Building Galactic Civilizations 3 inside the "stressful" world of Early Access

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Building Galactic Civilizations 3 inside the "stressful" world of Early Access

Paul Boyer, Galactic Civilizations III’s lead designer, is tired. It’s a good kind of tired, though, and the end is in sight. He’s been running around putting out minor fires, “Oh crap, this one screen has little asterisks in front of the letters for some reason," and getting the gargantuan space 4X game ready for its May 14th launch. 

Galactic Civilizations III’s development has contained a lot of firsts. It’s Boyer’s first time in the lead designer role, the first time Stardock CEO Brad Wardell hasn’t been the lead designer, the first time Gal Civ’s been 64-bit and Stardock’s first foray into Steam Early Access. 

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Why one publisher sees a game you play for 1,000 hours as a missed opportunity

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Why one publisher sees a game you play for 1,000 hours as a missed opportunity

The last ten years have seen the rise of free to play, DLC, and limited game activations. They span the whole games industry but they were born out of a problem for console developers. “The most successful games," Gameforge vice president Tim Campbell tells me, “they only charge $60 but someone plays them for 1,000 hours.

“It’s like ‘Holy cow, you pretty much gave away a ton of game to people’."

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Heroes of Might & Magic 7 is a slave to its conservative fans

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Heroes of Might & Magic 7 is a slave to its conservative fans

It’s rare for a game developer to be so open about what went wrong. It’s rarer still for a game developer to be so open about a conflict between them and their community. Limbic, the developers responsible for Might and Magic, are doing both. Because they’ve got a problem.

The core of the Heroes of Might & Magic games haven’t changed much in the past 20 years. Since the beginning you’ve commanded your heroes and their attached war bands around the campaign map, battling monster encampments, capturing towns, and collecting conveniently abandoned resources. Each iteration brought better graphics and new armies but the core mechanics remained the same.

There’s a reason why the games haven’t changed much. It’s because the fans don’t want change. They actively campaign against change. That puts Limbic, the team responsible for pushing the series forward, in an awkward position.

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Eve Valkyrie’s first alpha test is only for powerhouse PCs

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Eve Valkyrie’s first alpha test is only for powerhouse PCs

Does your PC turn on to the sound of the Rocky-theme? Do you have to tell it to be quiet in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep over the sound of it lifting weights? Do you sometimes worry it’s started taking steroids? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, CCP want you.

For Eve Valkyrie’s first phase of alpha testing the studio are looking for the players with powerful machines, able to run games in their tippest-toppiest of settings.

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Our Spotlight units plug content our journalists have made, that our advertisers want to promote. Sometimes the promotion is paid for, but the content they go to is always independent with no client oversight or approval.

Heat Signature: surviving in space for as long as you can

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Heat Signature: surviving in space for as long as you can

Heat Signature is a game about flitting around a big procedurally generated galaxy, boarding ships, sneaking around and sometimes beating up guards. It’s being developed by Tom Francis, who you might know from Gunpoint, a game about breaking into buildings and sometimes beating up guards. Special trousers were involved. It was great. 

There’s a lot more to Heat Signature than being an intergalactic ne’er-do-well though, so I pestered Francis with questions to get the skinny on this space game.

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Galactic Civilizations III beta: now it's getting fun

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Galactic Civilizations III beta: now it's getting fun

Galactic Civilizations III, Stardock's ginormous 4X flagship, has been in Early Access since March. Today it makes the move into beta. Starting up a game immediately evokes memories of its predecessor. At first, it looks, if not identical, at least so similar that it feels like coming back to Galactic Civilizations II. That’s not a bad thing, and it’s by design. 

“I’m hoping people will play GalCiv 3 beta and they’ll get the same feeling as GalCiv 2 and then they can go ‘wow this is going to be even better when it’s done’," lead designer Paul Boyer told me earlier this week. 

But peeling back that familiar surface reveals a game that is very much new. So new it’s not yet finished, and there are still missing features - most coming in later beta phases - like diplomacy, but also new because Stardock have managed to make some significant changes to the formula. And it looks like it’s paying off. 

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Sheltered preview: The family that eats flesh together, stays together

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Sheltered preview: The family that eats flesh together, stays together

It’s the end of the world. The surface is an irradiated wasteland filled with mutants and desperate survivors. Below the ground, however, resides a family, sheltered in their stalwart vault. With Sheltered, developer Unicube is taking the well-worn post-apocalyptic setting, but is putting family first. 

Pensions, schooling, family holidays - they are all distant memories, replaced by slavery, cannibalism, banditry and survival. Anything to keep the family going. The post-apocalypse is, all things considered, not a very nice place. 

With the Kickstarter recently ending in success - netting Unicube $30,148, over double the first target - I wanted to take a peek inside the vault. I spoke with Dean Foster, lead programmer, and Sonny Meek, artist and programmer, to get the skinny on this curious survival management sim. 

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Rust is rebooting: here's why

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Rust is rebooting: here's why

Rust, Facepunch Studios' Darwinian survival game, is getting a do-over; a reboot that’s making sweeping changes across Rust’s savage world. The default branch on Steam is no longer being updated, and Garry Newman and the rest of Facepunch are working exclusively on the experimental branch. 

Garry calls the original Rust a prototype, and a messy one at that. The code is limiting, and with the amount of players - a number that surprised the developers - Garry felt that the team needed to pick up the pace and overhaul the game instead of polishing it as they went along. 

It sounds like a significant undertaking, rebuilding the game from scratch. I got in touch with Garry to find out about the extent of the changes and how the old code was holding the game back. 

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Inside Slitherine: the wargame publisher searching for new realms to conquer

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Inside Slitherine: the wargame publisher searching for new realms to conquer

If you conjure up the image of a CEO, you’d be hard pressed to fit JD McNeil into that mold. As the CEO of Slitherine, he oversees the 120 developers under Slitherine’s wing. His knowledge of the wargame genre is great, and he knows exactly how popular it is and how well each game does - not that he’d share exact numbers with a journalist, even after a few beers. 

Beneath the jokes, though, he’s a shrewd businessman who has seen Slitherine go from strength to strength, and somehow he finds the time to be a magistrate in England. Maybe that’s why he’s able to listen to me jabbering on about Twitch - something Slitherine is only just exploring. He listens and analyses, looking to grow the publisher in ways that makes sense. 

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Landmark's Player Studio: "Players are better with our tools than we’ll ever be"

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Landmark's Player Studio: "Players are better with our tools than we’ll ever be"

Player Studio just makes sense in Landmark. A game about creation and sharing is the perfect place for a marketplace for user-created items. And it’s integral to SOE’s free-to-play model, their take on which is one of the best in the business, never punishing players who don’t want to spend a penny, but offering them plenty of incentives to part with cash. 

We had a chat with Landmark designer David Georgeson about the anticipated impact of Player Studio, and how it - along with player feedback and experimentation - has informed Landmark’s development timeline. 

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H1Z1: a sandbox where you can build a fortress and then set fire to brawling wolves and zombies

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H1Z1: a sandbox where you can build a fortress and then set fire to brawling wolves and zombies

In the bowels of E3, we’re at the mercy of zombies. Not sleep-deprived, hungover journalists, but the rotting, walking cadavers that populate SOE’s new post-apocalyptic survival MMO, H1Z1. 

It’s a single server, no resets and 64 square kilometres (at the moment) of forests, deserts, towns and zombies. And at first, it sounds a lot like DayZ. That was always going to be the hurdle for SOE, that immediate comparison that everyone leaps to. 

But this isn’t DayZ, and ex-Counter Strike pro, now H1Z1 senior designer, Jimmy Whisenhunt offers plenty of reasons why the two games are different and can co-exist. 

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Civilization goes Beyond Earth, but not back to Alpha Centauri

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Civilization goes Beyond Earth, but not back to Alpha Centauri

Civilization: Beyond Earth is the first Civilization game to focus on humanity’s expansion into the stars, but it stands very much in the shadow of Firaxis legendary sci-fi 4X, Alpha Centauri. While superficially similar to Civilization II, Alpha Centauri had its own identity and inspired a generation of passionate fans. So my first question for Civilization: Beyond Earth designers David McDonough and Anton Strenger was the obvious one. How much of its inspiration would Beyond Earth take from Alpha Centauri?

The answer might disappoint players who have spent years revisiting Planet via backwards-compatibility fixes and the Good Old Games edition of Alpha Centauri. There’s a lot more than licensing issues dividing Civilization: Beyond Earth from Firaxis’ first trip to the stars. The truth is that Alpha Centauri is a work of dystopian sci-fi, while Beyond Earth is a continuation of the fundamentally optimistic Civilization series.

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How Creative Assembly designed Alien: Isolation's terrifyingly clever xenomorph

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How Creative Assembly designed Alien: Isolation's terrifyingly clever xenomorph

Alien: Isolation burst out of Creative Assembly's chest yesterday, splattering previews all over the internet and making us spill our collective cereal — here is my Alien: Isolation preview, in case you're interested in finding out more. The game plays, in the parts we've been shown at least, like Amnesia in space, with only a solitary, highly intelligent and free-roaming xenomorph forming the game's horror centrepiece.

Gary Napper, lead designer at Creative Assembly, and Jude Bond, lead artist, spoke to me about how to create a truly terrifying artificial intelligence, what they thought of recent games in the franchise and how Alien: Isolation hopes to sustain a level of tension from start to finish that doesn't result in heart-stopping fatalities. Come have a look at the words we said to one another.

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Placing authenticity over accuracy in Total War: Rome II

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Placing authenticity over accuracy in Total War: Rome II

Playing Total War: Rome II as a classicist is a wee bit like watching the latest Marvel or DC cinematic adaptation as a comic book aficionado. It might be delightful to see something you’re mildly obsessed with transposed to another medium, but god forbid artistic license be employed. 

In between stamping out the Samnite threat in Rome II’s prologue, I sat down with Creative Assembly studio director Michael Simpson and communications manager Al Bickham to chat about striking a balance between historical accuracy and entertainment. 

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The Making of Civilization V: Brave New World

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The Making of Civilization V: Brave New World

Making Civilization is a negotiation. Between the series’ past and its future. Between members of an experienced development team who have had years to think about making it better. Between Firaxis and a passionate fan community for whom Civilization has been a way of life. It’s not always an easy exchange.

“When this team was developing Civ V everyone bought into that vision," Dennis Shirk, senior producer on the Brave New World expansion, told me. “It’s not the kind of development where the designer is the only voice in the room. The entire team gets to contribute to a game. So it does cut a little bit when we release something like Civ V and you see Civfanatics [a major fan forum] split into two camps, it cuts a little bit. Because you’re kind of like a kid that wants their parents blessing and say, ‘You did a really good job.’ It doesn’t always happen, but you make your decisions, you take your risks, and try something new, and you put it all out there."

With Brave New World, Firaxis have once again tried to get their fans blessing with daring new changes. It is the game it took Firaxis five years to learn how to make.

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Size Five Games talk about Gun Monkeys, their secret shooter that isn't The Swindle

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Size Five Games talk about Gun Monkeys, their secret shooter that isn't The Swindle

Gun Monkeys is a 2D multiplayer shooter by Size Five Games, notable because it's not the game Size Five Games were thought to be working on two days ago. That still in-development game is The Swindle (interview here), a project whose ever vastening complexity demanded that its lead developer Dan Marshall take a short break to work on something else. That something else is Gun Monkeys, a 2D multiplayer shooter that's just sent me around in a big grammatical circle with its dizzyingly neon backdrops and bouncy, kerblammy gunplay. I spoke to Dan about development fatigue, the upcoming Gun Monkeys beta and how to procedurally generate a penis.

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Chris Taylor on Wildman and life as an escaped zoo animal

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Chris Taylor on Wildman and life as an escaped zoo animalChris Taylor isn’t sleeping well. It’s Friday, January 11th, and there are only 72 hours until Gas Powered’s first Kickstarter goes live. He and his team at Gas Powered Games are constantly second-guessing themselves and worrying about the strength of their pitch for Wildman. Are they showing too little? They have prototype assets they can use, but they worry that the low-quality will make people think Wildman is likewise low-quality. But if they only show the stuff that looks good right now, chiefly concept art, Taylor and GPG worry that people will think the project looks too narrow, or too incomplete. How do you create a pitch that leaves people satisfied, yet hungry for more?

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The Best PC games of 2013: Maia

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The Best PC games of 2013: Maia

While 2013 may be packed with big releases like Bioshock Infinite, SimCity, and Manshoot 7, one of the more ambitious projects is Maia. A return to the god game genre, Maia has you manage a colony on a distant planet. Hostile elements and violent indigenous creatures are the physical threats your colonists will face from the outside but isolation on the edge of space will take its toll on your followers mental state.

We talked to the game's developer, Simon Roth, to learn more about the darkly comic game.

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