Achtung: Red Orchestra 2 goes free for a day

Pretty sure that's the same apartment flat as Fallout.

War never changes. But it does occasionally drop in price.

Attention conscripts: for the next day only, Tripwire Interactive is giving away its multiplayer World War II shooter Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. It works like this: just head over to the Steam page, install the game, and it’s yours to keep indefinitely. Sweet deals like that just prove yet again that the fight against fascism was worth it.

Red Orchestra is a game with a proud history. It began as a free mod for Unreal Tournament 2003, where it turned heads for its uncommon realism. Players had to compensate for their breathing when aiming, track their own ammo counts and avoid one-shot kills just like their grandparents did.

Over the years several new versions have appeared on Steam, along with various expansions and DLC content. A lot of that stuff follows the naming convention Red Orchestra: Subtitle, so it can be tough to tease it all apart. Red Orchestra 2 was released in 2011, and Tripwire no doubt hopes you like it so much you’ll buy the newer game Rising Storm. (Sans subtitle.)

As their respective Steam pages note, Rising Storm “contains all multi-player content from Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad,” but Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad “does NOT contain full Rising Storm content.” To figure out the exact intersection of the two, first subject the manifold to a generic rank 4 tensor T, test for diffeomorphism covariance, and then render the final topology in wax crayon. I suggest Burnt Sienna or maybe Periwinkle.

After the jump, a trailer shows off some fine, free potato-masher action.

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You don’t know the power of King’s Bounty: Dark Side

He'd stand on his head to make you a deal.

Someone must have made Stan an offer on that old Grog machine.

[No, you're not seeing double: this post appeared briefly yesterday until a server gremlin got to it. In the interest of preserving the timeline and saving the universe, here it is again. -ed.] 

Russian publisher 1C Company braved the permafrost today to announce a new entry in the King’s Bounty series. King’s Bounty: Dark Side is due out this summer, and for the first time you’ll get to play as nonhuman races like orcs, demons and vampires. (Judging from the box art at that link, I wouldn’t expect the game’s nonhuman warrior-women to be any less puerile and ill dressed than their human counterparts.)

2008′s King’s Bounty: The Legend is probably still the best stab at the Heroes of Might and Magic formula since the heyday of New World Computing. The sequels didn’t review quite as well, so I hope Dark Side manages to shake things up. Apart from the custom race feature, the early bullet list is a bit underwhelming:

  • New companion system (different companions for each character)
  • New battle companion
  • New units, artifacts and rage abilities
  • Over 100 new quests and 15 new locations

That basically amounts to more of the same, right? But more of the same can be just dandy in a strategy RPG like this. The truly important features, like good quest design, careful unit balance, and tight tactical AI don’t show up well in bullet points. Whether they’ll show up in the final game is a question we’ll have to wait to settle.

There’s no trailer as yet, but see below for a King’s Bounty Collection video. That’s a relatively new collection that includes every King’s Bounty game released so far (not counting the New World games from the early ’90s), and it sells for $55 on Steam. Keep your eye on that price, as it’s likely to fall as a prelude to Dark Side’s launch.

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“There’s more to life than gaming”: Creative ads, 2000-03

Senseless, confused, grasping: words that describe this ad and Creative as a whole.

PKOW! “These headlights are defective.” PKOW! “He hates these headlights!” (January ’00)

Welcome to the second part of our examination of Creative Labs’ back-of-magazine advertisements from 1996-2003. (If you missed part one, which featured ads from ’96-99, you’ll want to catch up here.) During that eight-year span the PC platform entered and enjoyed a golden age, but the fall from grace came quickly at the hands of upstart console systems. Creative’s ads help us to trace that history in characteristically lurid hues of yellow, orange and purple.

For Creative the post-millennial period was one of transition. Its mainstay sound card market had begun to dry up as motherboards started to offer built-in sound solutions. There was also another factor at play: Creative’s sound card tech stagnated after it sued its competition Aureal out of existence. Why, we can imagine the board of directors asking, should the company bother to innovate when it had just gobbled the bankrupt remnants of its only direct competitor? But gamers wondered in turn: why upgrade to an Audigy when it sounds about the same as an older SB Live (and in many games, worse than an old Aureal Vortex 2)?

Well aware of the shifting market (a shift, after all, that it had helped induce), Creative began to diversify its products, focusing on computer speakers, mp3 players and USB memory sticks. Contrast the company’s advertisements from 2000-03 with those from 1996-99 for a lesson in the perils of success, the tragedy of hubris, and the importance of color coordination.

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Cortex Command dev issues update, along with mea culpa

Time for a little bunker buster, Buster.

We’ll smoke ‘em out of their holes.

A lot of press releases cross my desk, few of which bear much relevance to Operation RDBK. Hero Defense Party IV: Now on Ouya and Vita! 50% off gold all weekend long in Candy Block Miner! Ninja Pixel Camp HD update brings you retro like you’ve never seen it before! This kind of sustained verbal poison is usually fatal, so if you ever decide to run a games site I suggest you stock up on activated charcoal.

I do get some relevant press releases–good PR folk, you know who you are–but it’s rather unusual to see something like this. Dan Tabar, founder of Cortex Command developer Data Realms, would like to anounce to the world that he screwed up.

After having sold the slowly evolving game directly through their own website for nearly a decade, Data Realms opted to release Cortex Command on Steam in September 2012. The Steam release was was dubbed “1.0″ to celebrate the addition of an early version of the metagame campaign mode. The “1.0″ nomer caused many prominent press outlets and gamers to wrongly assume the build was the final release. The miscommunication led to numerous scathing reviews of what was effectively a work-in-progress version of the game, demotivating the developer from continuing the project.

The rest of the press release (reproduced in full, if you’re curious, below the jump) explains that Dan rebounded and worked closely with some mod teams to turn the game around. It’s the same kind of story I encountered recently with Orion: Dino Horde, and in the case of Cortex Command it seems to be borne out by the community. Despite a Metacritic rating of 44, the user score rests at 68, which suggests a softening of opinion.

Cortex Command is a multiplayer run-and-gun game akin to Soldat, but with base-building, destructible terrain and a detailed physics system. A big new update, “Build 30,” just added Steam Workshop support, a new AI squad mechanic, and quite a bit more. The game’s on sale for $9.99 on Steam. After the jump, Dan Tabar explains the whole kerfuffle in a video that cleverly doubles as a trailer.

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Steppe to it: Wargame Red Dragon is out

Wrong!

The open steppe. Fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, shrapnel in your hair.

Message begins. Urgent: Wargame: Red Dragon is out on Steam. Price: $39.99. Message ends.

So what are you waiting for? It said urgent! Oh okay, here’s some background. Red Dragon is the latest game in Eugen Systems’ acclaimed Wargame series, which has quickly become the standard bearer for modern RTS combat. The action takes place in a central Asian theater during the latter half of the Cold War. This time Nixon’s going to China with troops at his back.

The whole series is marketed in a really misleading way, i.e. as mindless military porn. The trailers are all over-the-shoulder action shots filled with missiles and explosions, but you won’t play from that perspective unless the mission’s almost done and you’re just mopping up. Most of the time you’ll be an eye in the sky, deploying units, directing their advance and calling in air support as needed. It’s a proper cerebral sim replete with historical detail, but still quite accessible by wargaming standards. (I learned the basics in about an hour.)

It’s also got a strategic campaign layer with a map and provinces, like a modern-day version of Total War. The economic and political aspects are minimal, but your strategic-level plans are still important to what transpires on the battlefield. I suggest a quick scroll through the devblog to see some of the game’s systems.

And now that you’ve read my disclaimer, it’s safe to view the trailer below. My, my, what an engine.

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Out Now: Battle Academy, Eterium, Jane Jensen’s Moebius and more

I'll take "Phil's Google Search history" for $200, Alex.

Anagrams for Operation Overlord include: A Reviled Porno Root; Overrated Oil Porno; Roadie Revolt Porno.

First out the gates tonight is the Steam release of 2010′s Battle Academy, which until now had been available only in its excellent iOS incarnation or through Matrix/Slitherine directly. It’s a turn-based WW2 tactics game that straddles the gap between hardcore and casual. The game’s $20.09 for the next week, and given Slitherine Group’s views on sales I’d say that’s as good a price as you’ll ever see.

Slitherine says a bunch of expansion content is scheduled to hit a week from today: “the Battle Academy Mega Pack, which includes 6 expansions containing over 100 new units, 75 new scenarios and 6 full campaigns.” That’ll bring the Steam version to parity with the one available on the publisher’s store. If you already own the PC/Mac version, you can punch in your serial number for a free Steam key here; and if you own the expansions, you’ll be able to do the same when they hit Steam.

After the jump, a surprising space sim, an unsurprising adventure dud, and many more assorted curios.

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Ex nihilo: Chaos Reborn is funded with little time to spare

The greatest generals prefer the 75-82% chance seen here.

“A general is a man who takes chances. Mostly he takes a fifty-fifty chance; if he happens to win three times in succession he is considered a great general.” –Enrico Fermi

Entropy will just have to wait: as I type these words Julian Gollop’s Chaos Reborn has just crossed the finish line of its $180,000 Kickstarter campaign. It was a pretty close shave with just 34 hours to spare, but I was always confident this one would pull through. I just can’t entertain the notion of a universe so hostile as to deny us a game such as this.

Chaos Reborn is a brisk tactical combat game that focuses on smart positioning, spellcasting and deception. Each spell you cast tips the cosmic scales toward either order or chaos, which can affect how future spells behave. Summon spells always have a chance to fail unless you fake them and summon an illusion. Illusions are just as dangerous as real monsters but are easily dispelled, so the contest comes down to whether your opponent is the sort of wizard who’d bluff–or who’d call you out on a bluff of your own.

If you want to contribute (thereby shifting the universe toward order) you’ve still got one more day to hop aboard. The $20 tier is the sweet spot: that gets you the final game plus access to the alpha and beta versions. For the next 34 hours you can even fire up a multiplayer prototype right in your browser window for a glimpse into the short life of a dueling wizard. The prototype is substantively identical to the version Owen previewed last fall.

So you’ve got a game from one of the most celebrated developers ever, plus my and Owen’s praise, a multiplayer demo, and fresh assurances that it will indeed see the light of day. If you still need convincing, the Chaos Reborn Kickstarter pitch video is below. (Also: call the undertaker over and tell him to adjust the temp on your fridge.)

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With Civilization Beyond Earth, Firaxis must look backward as well as forward

They mostly come at night. Mostly.

Maybe we could build a fire, sing a couple of songs, huh?

Over the weekend Firaxis announced to much acclaim the next entry in the Civilization series. Set not on Earth but on an alien world, it’s much closer in tone to an Alpha Centauri 2 than a Civilization 6. However you cast it, Sid Meier’s Civilization Beyond Earth is by its very existence the most important strategy game in years.

In previews with PC Gamer and Gamespot, Firaxis reps strive to emphasize differences from Alpha Centauri. They mention new features like satellites, a non-linear tech tree, and an affinity system that represents your faction’s values. As lead producer Dennis Shirk told Gamespot, “We think a lot of the comparisons between this game and Alpha Centauri will be left behind as people see all the things that are coming into play that makes this a completely new experience.”

Thus the early PR push is all about marketing Civilization Beyond Earth as its own game not beholden to its 15-year-old predecessor. But in the words of Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “it is in reaching to our beginnings that we begin to learn who we truly are.”

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