“That level looks old!”

I was just reminiscing using the “way back machine” perusing the news I wrote while I was the Head Monkey at the AQMD (Action Quake Map Depot) back in 1999-2000. I can still remember receiving the e-mail from Death Magnet telling me he was stepping down and was handing the “reins of power” over to me. LOL.

While I cannot find the exact day, I still vividly remember the day I stepped down from the AQMD because I felt I was not fulfilling my position as the Head Monkey and my interests were moving to Quake III, in search of the “next action.” That turned out to be Urban Terror and my time and work at the AQMD became history.

A part of me wanted to leave the AQMD because the Quake 2 engine was getting dated and levels were looking old. Even new levels were retreads of old ideas and very few level designers were bringing something new to the table in terms of development. I guess I can’t fault them, but why anyone would spend months working on a level that will be tossed in an ever growing pile of already “official” AQ2 levels was beyond me. I guess each individual had their reasons.

Just the other day I had an ill feeling when I looked at some new images of a level in development for Urban Terror. Just like the day I left the AQMD, that feel returned, when the first thought was “that level looks old.” Now, I know the Quake III engine is dated, just as Urban Terror is. But even with this engine it is possible to up the level of quality before releasing a level.

Some level designers have stated they won’t spend the time taking their level to the proverbial, “next level” for numerous reasons. First, it’s too much work. Okay, I’ll give you that reason, to a point. Level design and development is nothing but work. Why half ass your work? Part of level development is improving and learning, working with techniques that will improve your skills and level. I don’t understand releasing a level that looks like it’s from 2000, when it’s 2008.

Second, there is always a chance your level will not be played. The reasons vary; FPS, poor layout or game play, or those asshats who just say, “it sucks” without reason, just to name a few. While many level designers understand this before diving head first into their levels, some don’t. After spending months and months, possibly even years on a level that last thing you want it no one playing your level. But to admit defeat before you even start is setting yourself up for failure.

I know the “basics” of level design, but I am no expert when it comes to what some in the Urban Terror Community create. I will cite INVIS, who is a consummate professional, maybe too much so when it comes to his levels. He understands level design from the inside out, knows the elements and how to construct them to create a successful and good looking level. WetWired was another Urban Terror level designer who was able to accomplish the same thing.

These are just two examples, but they worked at a different level than most other level designers. Their time, effort and persistence usually paid off. While I don’t mean to characterize other level designers as failures, I would like them to take a look at what levels have all the elements that make up a successful level. Above all other is game play, but this isn’t something that “just happens” this is something that is planned from day one. You can’t happen upon game play, you must create it.

While game play does reign supreme and is the foundation on which to build, you cannot ignore the other factors when level designing. I am hoping that some level designers understand what makes the good levels good and try to learn why another level not so good. Don’t only push the Quake III engine, but push yourself to rise above the mediocrity we see creeping into the levels that are played in Urban Terror.

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AQ2 Review: Kumanru by Shmitz

Kumanru by Mark “Shmitz” Major
| kumanru.zip | 510 kb | Mark Major | Score: 5.0 | By Oswald |
* There’s rumor of great treasures to be found in the newly discovered Temple of Kumanru. However, there are more greedy hands than can comfortably share any fortunes that may be found, so order of day is to take care of the competition first, and THEN go looking for the riches. Every once in awhile a very balanced map comes along which stands above rest. Kumanru: Altar of Kumanru is one of these gems, shining like a new found treasure in a lost city.

*- Reproduced from Kumanru readme.txt file.

Texturing [5.1]
The large, stone blocks used in construction are reflected in texturing seen throughout temple walls and floors. These textures dominate most all of map layout. The altar room, meditation room and slaughter room each convey a different feeling as seen in style and texturing used. One has dyed, dark green circular patterns on floor, with a raised, multi-textured/colored altar in center of room. The meditation room is set into floor and is surrounded in off white stone which the temple is built in. Outside in the courtyard, there is a small section and rocky cliffs, which lead to a temple entrance. Beneath the temple there are water filled caverns and stone carved patterns in the walls, which help to break up a reoccurring stone theme. Mark has paid exceptional attention to getting most detail out of simplest of texturing. This in part to lighting effects.

Ambience: [6.1]
What makes this map most impressive is use of lighting effects found in the many rooms of temple. Every area you enter, every corner and hallway you go through, there is some lighting effect used to create that much sought after ambience. Each room is lit completely different, one in the glow of a raised golden altar, another, in a recessed portion of floor, cast in a reddish glow. Down in the lower cavern system, its beautifully light in a glow of green. Well located yellow lights glow brightly, helping to break up the continuous green glow to create an eerie feeling while exploring. The use of shadows and darkened corners are endless. With a layout such as this, lighting helps to accentuate wonderful structural design on temple. The only sound you will experience, is when you are crossing the ledge in an attempt to dodge cast iron bells to get to a sniper tower, or on floor, in that particular room. This seems to be the only deficient portion of the map, good solid sounds to help create that so often needed ambience.

Creative Spark: [4.1]
This map goes in a completely opposite direction than many other maps of its time. While authors were laying out and constructing vertical cities of concrete and metal, Mark too took a different approach. Sometimes those maps which are simple, are successful. When you think of Kumanru, visions of Indiana Jones and nonstop action begin running wild. That is where this map takes over and excels. There have been other maps of this type when have attempted to recreate a map of this style, but most seem to be lacking one of details which Kumanru has.

Construction: [5.5]
Do you want to know secret to this maps success in Action Quake community? The r_speeds! The polycount is just outstanding on this map. Turn r_speeds “1” (ON) in console and take a run through map. These speeds peak at about 340, while averaging in low 100s. This is an excellent map which almost any system could run on an Internet based server. That is reason this map has gained its popularity. I don’t feel as if there are any major technical flaws, just a few areas which could may of helped playability. I think small, outside courtyard could have been increased in size. At times, attempting to hop up rocky to temple entrance can be difficult. There also needs to be another route into and out sewer area. It is too easy to control this area and dominate entire map.

Playability: [4.0]
This is a great map, which suits any type of style of game play, as choice of weaponry is not crucial. As experienced many times before, watch for snipers, squatting and sniping from either tower, into courtyard area. As rounds progress, it becames a game of cat and mouse as both teams wander the map looking for an advantage, without holding down a single area. The only exception is lower cavern area. It is possible for a team to guard entrances, thus beginning a standoff with the opposition. Most other areas seemingly have a “backdoor,” allowing for surprise attack. There are many pillars and corners to hide behind for cover. Not to mention what few prefabs we had, you are able to duck behind them. The map seemed to play best with teams of six to eight players per side.

6th Sense: [5.2]
I think many will agree, this is a great overall map. Given the layout, lighting and playability, this map has become a mainstay server favorite. There are many maps which try to emulate the combination which Kumanru has, but none have matched its success. There are many different areas and passageways which lead, virtually all over map. There is no need to feel trapped in a dead end. An escape route is just around corner, out window or down through floor. I wish there were more maps which could combine the needed effects to create results similar to this map.

Final Score: [5.0]
[Oswald] Upon initial release, this map was a success. It seems to have grown in popularity, as many servers I check are still running it. And for good reasons, as reflected in our choice of including as one of best Action maps. There are prettier looking maps out there. Maps which are more intricate. Maps with outstanding lighting and sound. But few have successfully combine these major categories to create an Action Quake map, like Altar of Kumanru which stands test of time, even as new Action maps are being released.

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AQ2 Review: Teamdepo by Strag

Teamdepo by Brian “Strag” Vannatta
| Teamdepo.zip | 1.31 Mb | Brian Vannatta | Score: 5.2 | By Oswald |

Ever wonder what it would feel like to be in the middle of nowhere, at a military supply depot that does not exist, according to the government? Like most military installations, the buildings and surroundings are drab in nature, take some time to familiarize yourself with the different areas. This map many take some getting acclimated to, but after further inspection, you realize this map holds quite an ingenious design and unique game play.

Texturing [4.0]
Considering the texturing is drab though out most of the map, Ruskprick always seems to get something extra out of the textures he creates. As Brian notes in the readme text, some of the texturing is “modified” to fit in certain areas. The red brick, light brown wood and cold gray textures seem to dominate most all of the map. There are enough different textures used throughout the facility that they mesh incredibly well. Numerous crate textures are used and quite noticeable, as some don’t fit in. The interior texturing seems to be thrown together with little thought, as opposed to the outside texturing, which seems to have been creatively applied. The high quality, which is used for the exterior, is not matched by the interior decor. The sky textures have been seen before, a dark nighttime sky, dotted with bright shinning stars. This fits the map wonderfully and helps to create a most important aspect of any map. Ambience.

Ambience: [5.5]
This military depot comes alive with a multitude of sounds during the night setting. Sounds seemingly resonate from the entire map, the hum of an electric transformer, the sound of blowing air from an air conditioning unit, the cry of a wolf in the distance and the calling of frogs. The chirping of crickets can be heard whenever outside or near a door or window. This sound is not so overbearing, that it detracts from the sounds of individual player’s footstep of the clicking of sniper rifle. The contrast between interior lighting and darkened night sky is lacking is not very noticeable. Although the use of exterior lighting effects helps to detract form that lack of contrast. These exterior lighting effects help create that darkened night ambience with their cascading glow.

Creative Spark: [4.5]
Based on the read me text, this map was designed solely for team play, which is reflected in the style and overall design. The success of this map is the execution of the game flow, which seems endless. That is a testament to the outstanding layout of the structures and support items, which Brian has created. Team spawn points give players enough room and time to maneuver while setting up tactics to eliminate the opposing force. Teams actually have a few options available to them as they set up their first strike. Initially, the map did not grab my attention, as it seemed a bit drab in nature. Other depot style maps have followed, but I can’t recall any other that has been so successful, so consider this the first, thus well made.

Construction: [6.0]
The author has done an excellent job, in the layout and design of the map. There are a few annoyances, which you will encounter. On the backside of the map, large, red, metal towers rise behind the brick wall, unfortunately, without going into ‘noclip’ mode; you cannot climb the wall to access that area. The other flaw in the design is a hallway next to the stairs on the lower level of the brick building, which is inaccessible because it is filled with crates. Additional access, possibly through the large through the large wooden gates with the ‘STOP’ sign, would have been an interesting addition to Teamdepo. In terms of online play, polygon count maintains acceptable levels. The only area to note a sharp increase is in the corner, near the hum of the electric generators behind the gray building.

Playability: [6.0]
You would not really know it from looking at the map, but the play characteristics are quite unique. Although it became all to familiar round after round, having the majority of the action taking place in the same few areas, such as under the brick building near the loading dock. For the review, teams were set eight players a side, probably a few too many a map of this size. Most of the players chose the SSG 3000 sniper rifle as their weapon, while others went with the M4 and M5/10. As teams spawned in their separate courtyards, some players took off the sniper tower and the interior of the building. Others decidedly took their life in their hands and ventured into the transition area (near the loading dock), where more often then not were met by resistance from the opposing force. Some snipers decided to attack from the building above the water, which made for heavy fire as the opposing team attempted to infiltrate that portion of the map. The crates added a bit of protection. For those who chose the building route, pistols and knives became the ultimate weapons, as the hallways are very narrow, which leave little room for error. The beauty of this map is the ability to get behind your enemy by using a multitude of routes available. Unfortunately, the game flow seems to be interrupted on the backside of the map when the garage door is closed, which is only accessible from inside. This helps to maintain the realism, but disrupts the action and detracts from the score.

6th Sense: [5.5]
Teamdepo seems to be the “original” military depot style map. Since then a few others have be created, similar in appearance but not in play. One word describes the how the action plays. Rock! This map is excellent in all aspects. For a team to control this map, it is almost imperative to control the area surrounding the loading dock. This makes opposition advancement impaired and more difficult. The elevation changes works to each teams advantage, multiple routes in and out of each area keep the rounds fresh as you try and kill the enemy. The interior is probably a bit overlooked, as most of the action seems to take place outside. Throw caution to the wind, the hallways in the brick building is narrow and very tight, leaving little margin for error or escape.

Final Score: [5.2]
[Oswald] Upon first glance, teamdepo looks dull and unexciting, like the barren desert wasteland it is built on. Everything about this maps says it should be a great map, not only visually, but to play on. There were instances which teams would find themselves in similar situations as the previous round, blasting away at their opposition. After further examination, Brian has created a delicate balance based around construction and playability, which lends itself favorably to all gaming styles. A few minor flaws in the layout do not detract from the thrill of the chase. Consider this map a smashing success.
[Ellusion] I have to agree on most parts mentioned; teamdepo is a very good map in my opinion. What it lacks in visuals and overall eye candy, it makes up with an attention to detail and superb playabilty. I would even say the playability borders on frustration sometimes, as balance can shift both ways depending on how you play, never knowing where you have the other team. The only real drawback in the gameplay though, is the few choke points that can easily ruin the fun when the m4 maniacs clash together with a wall of bullets and no chance of escape. As to the visuals, a lot of textural improvements along with lighting could easily have raised this map a few notches up. I suggest the boomstick and some cozy slippers for one helluva tension-filled game.

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Changes in the Wind

There has been a small union between Urban Terror and The 6th Floor. I will now supply the 6th Floor Poll on the main page. Kinda cool. Next, I want to say thanks to everyone who has made this site quite popular. As the counter reads, I finally surpassed 50,000 hits! I guess we can call that a milestone. One on which I am going to build on.As for the changes. I may or may not keep the Action Quake 2 information available here. I am going to convert this over to an Urban Terror map site. There will be a plethora of things for mappers and those interested in Urban Terror. Although I will not be giving away development team secrets, I feel I can be more myself here. As for the information I have on AQ2, I will turn the reviews over the AQMD. This transition may not happen overnight, but I expect to follow through with this plan.The recent news on Urban Terror, well there still has been no beta released. Although Preacher has put a call out for some help:

“Silicon Ice Development, makers of Urban Terror is in need of more animators!!! Nobody quit or was removed from the team or anything like that. The simple fact is our animators are over worked. This in no way, shape or form will effect our beta release. BUT! We would like to have as much done as possible before our release. So if you have some skills animating models, and you really know your stuff. E-mail us as soon as possible. Please have some work ready for us to review.” So if you are good at what you do or your name is Paul Steed, then contact us and we will review your work. Unless your name is Paul Steed, then you are “in” with the development team =)

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AQ2 Review: City by Ruskprick

Kumanru by Mats “Ruskprick” Holm
| city.zip | 1.88 Mb | Mats Holm | Score: 5.1 | By Ligur |

They say there is great beauty in Sweden, especially when it comes to the bikini teams. There is also grace and style in the way Mats “Ruskprick” Holm designs his maps with a unique realism which has rarely been accomplished to this extreme. Not only is he a master of layout, but he does what most cannot. He creates many of his own individual textures for all of his maps. City is no exception, just look closely at the intricate detail and the style at which the map is played. Only then will you come to understand that Ruskprick is more then a name, it is a style which has become indicative of Action Quake 2.

Texturing [5.8]
Like all of Ruskprick’s maps, City has great textures made by the author. The r_speeds are kept in check by detailing the map with cool texturing and using a minimum of brushes. The basic texturing in this map is an orange, brick coloured one used in the buildings all over. The stairways and interiors in the map have a nice, smooth yellowish wall colouring, and streets look like tinted asphalt. Some details like a Chinese restaurant, a computer store, a police station (don’t worry, they are on strike), Pizza la Mafia etc. are all different textures slapped in the building walls, and every single one of them looks good if a bit plain. The map in general is plain and minimalistic, but clear and somehow very crisp and good looking. The only detail explosion is the flat of Karlsson himself, a two room apartment you can reach by jumping over an alleyway and in from an open window. Karlsson definitely has some kick ass carpet and wallpaper.

Ambience: [3.3]
The ambience is not enhanced by a plethora of exciting new sounds of anything, and you won’t see massive new features here either. Lightning is smooth and harmless, blending to the map in a way you don’t even notice it, excellent so to speak. After that its all in the textures and layout. The nice touch that crowns the map is the radio in Karlsson’s room: It plays his TV series tune. Very groovy, a bit 70s track with a guy honking “Karlsson Karlsson wheee here comes Karlsson” and so on in Swedish. When the map came out dozens of demos of people dancing in the room were recorded. AQ2 music industry bloom? I’ll never forget the dance kick fights up there, and fondly remember how I once danced out of the window (accidentally), got pulpified on the asphalt below, and how my clan mates had so much fun on me laughing about the dork who grooved out of the window. A shame you can shoot the radio to scrap (it does explodes), but that gives a new, wonderful object orientation to the map: Can you reach the room before the lamer who does not like the Karlsson tune (I mean, he must be really weird, possibly dangerously insane not to like it…) and shoot him to gibs before he manhandles the sound box?

Creative Spark: [3.4]
Creating a Swedish town scene with a Karlsson on the Roof flavor and succeeding so damn well, I guess that is creative. Ruskprick is always creative about what he does: nothing is done the easy way. We get the full package of looks, smooth game play and an overall fun theme. The actual city idea is far from original, but the way its made, similar to reinventing the wheel so it rolls better. I can’t but give him credit for the map in this department too. I’ll say again, the Karlsson room idea and how it was made is hella fun.

Construction: [5.6]
The construction is basically very plain, but very, very efficient. Everything is cut and positioned in a way that will reduce r_speeds to a good, multiplayer level which is playable. The map has two ends (heh), and is shaped a bit like the number “8”, with an additional section to the middle. Teams spawn on either end, or the other team can spawn in a roof in the middle area of the map. Deployment is lightning fast, the streets are nearly clear of obstructions and mad strafe jump bunnies can accelerate to subsonic. Basically you can be on the throat of the other team mere seconds after the movie starts. But usually this will get you shot up good, so the teams tend to take a bit more tentative approach and take positions in the middle of the map, either the police station or a high building on the opposite side. The ends of the map are both accessed by a cramped alley or a tunnel penetrating a house block. Some trashcans, boxes and such are littered here and there, sparsely but very usefully positioned. However plain and empty the streets appear, cover is never that far. In addition we have drainpipes you can use to reach various roofs, and stairways that lead up in the middle building or the ends of the map. Simple construction is probably one of the major reasons for the maps popularity and success, it offers sniper and long range action with very good r_speeds, and something no other map this far has to give in my opinion and the game is easy to follow. You can be pretty sure where the enemy is, or at least find him fast. Most of the time. Some of the rooms are reachable via the drains since stairways tend to attract campers, but what map does not have that?

Playability: [6.1]
This is definitely a team play map, and suits small or large teams. Snipers, auto-monkeys or the shotgun will be the most effective here, but a HC or kick freak has his own territory to rule also: the alleys or the stairways spread around the map are cramped and support another style of action gaming. You just easily get stuck on a room or a stairway, with multiple opponents with long range weaponry training their sights on the exits. A heroic last stand is, of course, only fun. The efficiency of the M3 Super Assault Shotgun on this map never ceases to amaze me, but somehow the streets are just the right size of space for SG combat. The SG is also superb on the interior areas of this map. Only accurate snipers easily control the central area or the roofs of the map, which support at least two ways to reach all the good perches. For clan games this map is, however, not the best choice of all. It gives you an easy to comprehend, fast moving game, but the two ends of the map are still easily camped by a whole team intent on only defending if they wish so. Flushing out campers that have a good position and refuse to come out is never fun in the long run. Clans looking for very complex games where communication is the only good way to totally defeat the enemy will get bored here at some point.

6th Sense: [6.0]
The sum is more then its parts or something, the map feels and plays well. City feels really thought over and finished, with no loose parts left hanging around. It really does look like a city! It is realistic, in a cartoonish way that fits Quake2, you don’t stop and start thinking, “What the hell is that supposed to be, now, a red box or a building?” After hundreds of games it starts to lose its charm, but what doesn’t? This map is easy to learn, harder to master and will last for ages. City is one of the classics that will be around as long as there are AQ2 servers. The theme is old and made a dozen times, but never as well and I doubt if anyone will make a simple urban map like City is, and have it work so well and charming as this one.

Final Score: [5.1]
[Ligur] Speechless.
[Oswald] This map like all of Ruskprick’s other creations is quite ingenious. From the basic design to playability and texturing to low r_speeds, he does not seem to miss a thing. As seen in his other maps, he tends to go, “all out” in all his projects. The attention to the detail makes all of his maps something special. City though was different and it took some time for the the design concept to actually set in. This map is better compared to Acticity then Urban, based on its long and twisting layout as opposed to going  vertical. Game play is what most look for when it comes to a successful Action map and Mats has left us begging for more. His unique and beautiful texturing also seems to make all his maps come alive with realism, something which is very difficult to accomplish, or so it seems in Action Quake 2.

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