As first discussed several weeks ago, this evening's update to Team Fortress 2 has added the necessary content to allow users to begin beta testing the long-awaited Competitive Matchmaking mode. Added content includes the Competitive Beta Pass item, new menu options, and minor updates to several unnamed maps, allowing them to be used in the mode. We haven't yet heard any reports of beta invites being sent out, but it's now possible for Valve to begin distributing beta passes whenever they wish now all the necessary assets are included in the most recent public build.
The rather sizable patch also includes various other bug fixes and improvements, such as significant balance changes to Snowycoast, a number of cosmetic item changes, the return of Gift Wraps, and the addition of a "Last Hit" sound to highlight when an attack caused the death of another player. The somewhat-forgotten Mannpower gamemode has also received numerous balance changes, including nerfs to a number of power-ups.
If you're interested in joining the closed beta for the competitive matchmaking mode, be sure to check out our news story from a few weeks ago, which lists a number of criteria which could significantly increase your chance of being selected!
It would appear that another veteran employee from Valve has left the company. According to two sources, Valve's employee page and LinkedIn, John Cook may have left Valve about a month ago after working there for 17 years.
You can see which strings were removed from Valve's employee page by going to SteamDB's SteamTracker.
John Cook is the co-founder of the original Team Fortress (along with Robin Walker) and was one of the head developers of Steam since the early days of Half-Life 2.
If this means that he has left the company, John Cook would be known to be the fourth veteran employee of Valve to leave within the last twelve months, following Ted Backman, Marc Laidlaw, and Doug Wood.
Kudos to the Facepunch and NeoGAF communities for spotting this.
GDC 2016 is just around the corner, with doors opening March 14th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA. Like last year, it looks like Valve will have a presence both on the Steam business side, as well as with holding info sessions. Below are the three currently known info sessions that Valve will be holding/presenting.
You'll notice that this years info sessions sound very similar to last year's, and I had written a summary of what those are about.
Practical Development for Vulkan (presented by Valve Software) with Dan Ginsburg
"In this session, Valve and other developers will share their experiences developing game engines with Vulkan. Come learn the ins and outs of Vulkan performance, engine design, content portability, and graphics debugging tools from multiple developers that have been building applications in this new industry standard API."
Outside the Studio Walls: MicroTalk Exploration of Non-Audio Ideas & Experiences with Emily Ridgway
"You are not just an AUDIO PERSON! Your sounds and music and artistic approach are shaped by your life experiences and influences, not all of which are other games or movies or songs. This microtalk will give you 10 brand new perspectives on game audio influences from outside the walls of the studio. In the classic GDC MicroTalk model, each speaker has 5 minutes and 20 seconds to go through their 20 slides (each timed at 16 seconds apiece). The ideas fly by fast and jabby, but aim to poke the audience in a long slumbering slab of grey matter to wake up some new inspiration for their own work!"
Advanced VR Rendering Performance with Alex Vlachos
"Reliably hitting 90 fps in VR is a significant challenge. This talk will present a method for adaptively scaling fidelity to consistently maintain VR framerate without using reprojection techniques, even on very low-end GPUs, while also having the ability to increase fidelity for high-end GPUs and multi-GPU installations. Valve's Aperture Robot Repair VR experience that was shown at GDC 2015 required an NVIDIA 980 to maintain framerate, but this talk will use that same experience as an example of how we now adaptively scale fidelity to maintain 90 fps on an NVIDIA 680, a 4-year-old GPU. The end result is an engine that appears higher fidelity throughout the experience, a lower GPU min spec, increased art asset limits, and a system that allows developers to stop focusing on framerate and instead spend their time increasing the quality and performance of their renderer while consistently maintaining framerate."
Expand your audience with the Steam Controller with Pierre-Loup Griffais and Scott Dalton
"In this session we will walk you through the varied options offered by the Steam Controller, demonstrate how users are already leveraging them to play your game in new ways, and provide a detailed list of recommendations to improve their experience and take your game to the living room."
To lessen some of the hype, it's worth mentioning that Valve held two similar talks at GDC 2015: Advanced VR Rendering and glNext: The Future of High Performance Graphics (Presented by Valve). If you are expecting to see Half-Life 3, or a lot of juicy info about Source 2, don't. These things will not be talked about - at least not directly. Information about their future projects IS inferred, though, in a lot of the information.
If more info sessions with Valve pop-up between now and GDC, we'll let you know.
As if Operation Wildfire and the new de_nuke update weren't enough, this week has brought two more big pieces of news on the Global Offensive front.
$1,000,000 PRIZE POOL FOR MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP
In a recent blog post, Valve announced that, starting with the MLG Columbus 2016 championship, each CS:GO Major Championship prize pool will be increased from $250,000 to $1,000,000.
As HLTV.org has pointed out, "the initially crowd-funded events have featured a $250,000 prize pool since their inception at the end of 2013, with 7 such tournaments having taken place so far."
MLG have also revealed the distribution of the prize pool money to the 16 teams that participate, and it goes as:
- 1. $500,000
- 2. $150,000
- 3-4. $70,000
- 5-8. $35,000
- 9-16. $8,750
LIGHTING AND SHADER IMPROVEMENTS
And with the introduction of the update to de_nuke, Valve have added a number of upgrades to CS:GO's lighting and shader systems. As described on CS:GO's Workshop summary page, the main improvements are:
- Lighting Improvements
- Static Prop Model Lighting Improvements
- Displacement Surface Lighting Improvements
- Normal Mapped Static Prop Lighting Improvements
- Cascade Shadow Maps (CSMs)
- New Shader Features
- Phong Specular highlights on Lightmapped Materials
- 2nd UV set support for Decals
- Normal Map Blending
- Anisotropic reflection emulation
- Cubemap Lighting Influence
- Drop Shadows and Highlights on Displacement Blends
- Hammer Editor Improvements
One of the coolest updates, in my opinion, is the upgrade to Hammer. Valve says that they've increased the memory available to Hammer, and so this allows for things like better support for modularity of assets. For instance, assets are now more flexible in that they can be interconnected with each other, and they can contain multiple surface types (or skins). As Valve puts it, "the idea being that we only need to build one prop set that can be re-used in an almost infinite number of scenarios."
All of these improvements are now available in the CS:GO SDK - for free!
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