“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.

Clanbase Newsie?

As if I don’t have enough to do already with what little “free time” I have, I sent in an application to Clanbase after they posted looking for members to join their news team. I have an interview set up this morning (08PST/17CET) when I get home from work. In the past I have written for Planetquake back in 2000 and 2001 reviewing Quake II levels. Prior to that I was the “Head Monkey” in charge of the Action Quake Map Depot, where I was hired on after the reviews I wrote for The 6th Floor, when the site was devoted to Action Quake 2.

Since that time, I have tried to keep sharp when it comes to putting fingers to keyboard by posting news at Inside The Game as well as providing news and development notes for Urban Terror since 2000! I feel I am qualified to hold a position as a member of the news team with my previous experience and background.

I thought this would be a great opportunity since Inside The Game and Clanbase are both owned by the Global Gaming League. I have nothing but praise for Clanbase, for the way they conduct business and run their league. Hopefully the GGL will see similar success in the future, as they try to emulate the success that Clanbase has in Europe, over here in North America.To be honest, I am rather devoid of good, quality news topics. I was scanning the news wires last night, but there was nothing earth shattering to discuss. So, we will see what becomes of this interview. I do know I have many supporters at Clanbase, from Urban Terror, current and past to Medal of Honor, which I have just started supporting at Inside The Game.

Also, somewhat off topic, but thanks to djWheat I am now video capable at Inside The Game. What does that mean? It means I can provide streaming media for Urban Radio, Just Push Play and any game that I cover. For example, let’s use MOHAA, there is no TV program, like GTV. So using this technology you could actually watch the match live, as I provide commentary. I am more interested in using it for Urban Radio. Just what the community wants, to see my ugly mug on their WMP for 2 hours. Hahaha. Anyway, I think this is great news for anyone who is a gamer, as I take the next step in casting.

I am in the final stages of testing and configuring the audio. Figures that the audio would be giving me issues. The video is golden, was using it earlier in the week, streaming to the Internet and watching my stream on my wife’s machine. Hopefully by the weekend we will be ready to broadcast our first event.

Go Out and Play!

While eating dinner last night with my wife and my parents, the discussion turned to raising children and the amount of computer of console time children should have as opposed to going outside and play. I cannot tell you how many times I heard that from my mother growing up. But when I in my early childhood (born in 1969), it was the mid 1970’s moving quickly into the 1980’s and the computer revolution.

I was blessed to have a father who was into electronic gadgets. He was an amateur radio operator and it was not long after the introduction of Pong in 1975, our family owned a system of our own. Shortly after the introduction of the Apple][ + from a local computer store. Compared to today’s computer, the Apple was nothing, when compared to systems like the TRS-80 or the Commadore-64. The Apple was touted as a “learning computer.”

When it came to education, I was not the best student, like many others I played too much and sometimes did not take studying serious. But one advantage I had was our Apple. Teachers loved the machine, because at this time there were very few computers being used by schools. All my reports were typed using a new idea called a word processor. Needless to say, teachers were impressed with the formatting and the easy reading, which probably gave me a bit of an advantage when it come to the actual content.

While my priorities were still that of a child, play, computer and school, I did remain active. I was able to manage my time (maybe that was my parents managing it for me) growing up, never being allowed to sit in front of the Atari or Apple for ungodly periods of time. Although, Lemonade Stand was damned addicting to play!High school saw the introduction of a new player into my life, girls (no, not women yet…but close). My studies continued to slip, as sports took priority (a three sport letter man in high school) especially baseball. I continued to use the computer as much as possible, learning how to program (all hail BASIC), while writing a few games and actually using the computer more for school…ooh yeah and also to manage my football pool.

By my high school years (1983-1987) computers were here to stay. While the Apple was still a learning machine, the PC is where the computer game craze began. I would wander the aisles of stores looking for games and finding Apple had a very limited selection, it really wasn’t until the Macintosh came along that more (still very few by comparison) game were made available. I would wish that my computer would play that game.

Fast forward to 1998, this is where I got my first taste of PC gaming, introduced by a roommate playing Quake 2. I was take in, hook, line and sinker. Much of my life (age 29 now) was centered on my relationship, flying and my career. But that all changed with Quake 2. I spent many hours, including sleepless nights learning the game, tactics and more information that I could comprehend. It only worsened when I returned to Los Angeles and got hooked up with a weekly group at something called a “LAN party.”

The rest, as they say is history. I learned most of my computer knowledge at these parties, from gaming to hardware and software to drinking good Tequila! I enrolled in A+ Certification and received my MCSE and Novell certificate in order to start a new career (that never materialized). I started building my own PCs and helping others repair theirs. I got so involved in gaming, I wrote articles for web sites such as Planetquake, was in charge of the Action Quake Map Depot and even started my own web site called Oswald’s 6th Floor (probably the first known link out there).

What am I getting at here aside from a bit of history? Basically there is a difference of opinion, between myself and wife when it comes to allowing our child to play console and computer games. Unlike 30 years ago, where kids were relatively safe playing outside, acting out war scenes or sci-fi movies, playing in the dirt and with make believe guns, time have changed and parents are not so trusting to let their kids go play unsupervised.

I am sure my wife will agree that our son, Zachary will be introduction to computer games at an early age. I think we will also agree that consoles and computers will not rule his life and that hopefully with our guidance he will be active taking an interest in sports or something outside of computer gaming.

do think that the future is going to become more and more technical, which means computers are going to play a larger part in his growing up than they did mine. Learning, actually learning is something that will take place on a computer. I’m not talking about shooting people or killing monsters, but learning that will help him grow.

Hey, I didn’t turn out bad? And my nasty computer habit has been curtailed quite a bit over recent years, since I found out love was a powerful thing when I met and courted my wife. Hopefully our son will have a chance to be active and grow, with friends he can go out and play with, while learning and yes, playing games over the Internet with other gamers.

Smile Pikachu!

Damn why does it seem when Friday comes I look back and ask myself, “What the *%$@ did I get accomplished?” I was going to rant, but held off because I hear Painberry has a doozy of an article soon to be posted on the “Big Fuzzy”. So until that time I will just sit back and watch all those bullets go whizzing by my head. Been spending two hours a night on the VK-14 server, trying to get more game experience in as we work towards Beta 2. I guess I should not be surprised, but many who are on that server, A) Must not visit the forum or B) Not read the web site. It seems they ask questions and want information which we have given out freely on both. Of course then comes the challenge of trying to type a response while trying to fight. Uh uh…doesn’t work. You end up dead. Don’t try this at home.

Earlier in the week, Silicon Ice Development announced new game play modes for Beta 2. Just to recap those were: Search and Destroy, Tax Collector, Infiltrate and Assassinate. From what I have gathered many like the announcement of the new versions, but there are still some skeptics. I am sure that is well justified, until SID releases more team play information. From what Apoxol told me, these were the “easiest to code in.” There will be more game play mode or changes to come. For more information on the new modes, check out the Urban Terror web site.

While I have not really been keeping up to date on the happenings in Action Quake 2, I still talk to the two monkeys I left in charge at the AQMD, Smurphster and GreyDeath. Smurph keeps raving about a mapper who goes by the name of Makro PN who comes from Romania. While I have only seen screen shots of his AQ2 creations, check out these seven shots of his first attempt using the Quake III engine:

[Shot #1] | [Shot #2] | [Shot #3] | [Shot #4] | [Shot #5] | [Shot #6] | [Shot #7]
After you check out the screen shots, give Makro PN some feedback in the Urban Terror Forum found here. This map show much promise. Don’t you agree?

With the introduction of ARIES for Beta 2, there were and still are many questions which have been asked. Apoxol answered some of those questions on the forums. Here is what he had to say.

Ok, lemme help you guys out a bit. 🙂

1) When you die now your screen fades to black before you become a spectator again
2) Blood emanates through the exactly point of impact using A.R.I.E.S..
3) If a player is bleeding you will see blood dripping out of the spot they were originally injured in (using aries).. The amount of individual blood drips is configurable.
4) Blood that drips from a bleeding player leaves stains on the ground, so you can follow dem bastards.
5) When you get hit i think it would be a good idea to jerk the crosshair a bit, ill look into adding that.
6) CrazyButcher has already animated us different death animations for the different kill zones. So if you kill someone with a headshot you will be graced with a nice headshot death anim (we also have pain animations but we may not use them).

Hope that helps clarify a few things.

For a glance at the enter thread leading up to this, click here.

Oswald Rant: The Porting of Levels

What is at the heart of nearly every first person shooter? Maps. Levels. Environments. Call them what you will, these are usually the first and most talked about visuals gamers see. In order to draw attention and gamers to your specific community, your mod development team must be able to use their creative talents to design functional, well playing levels. But, before you even step into a map, that level must catch and hold the attention of the community.

We have been able to capture the attention of the Urban Terror community simply by using screen shots. There has been considerable amount of attention drawn to levels which have been created by Brent ‘WetWired’ Waller for Urban Terror. Levels which are visually stunning and layouts that flow like a smooth shot of tequila. Don’t believe me, have a look at Venice his newest creation which is scheduled for released with Beta 2. I would put this map up against a Counter-Strike level any time. Best of all, it is all original.

WetWired recently gave permission to a fellow developer working on the Reaction Quake 3 project to port his map, Tequila. Along with this map, they have decided to port some of the more legendary maps to their mod. Maps which were created using the Quake 2 engine such as Sludge, Kumanru and Team Jungle, just to name a few. My question is why? Are mod developers no longer being creative? Can they not decide on what type of levels to create, that they must take a step backwards in order to preserve a mod like Action Quake 2 alive?

I will be the first to admit, our early beta releases resembled Action Quake 2, but with more eye candy and some newa features which were never introduced to Action. One thing Silicon Ice Development asked of those in their community was not to port or develop maps which were created for Action Quake 2? The reason wass simple. We are not Action Quake 2 and in order for people to realize that we must move forward and look to build a mod around the idea the action and realism. If there was any team who would benefit greatly from porting Action maps, it would be Urban Terror.

Gerbil! who was known well in the Action Quake 2 community had the all-time greatest map, Urban. His follow up maps, Urban2, Urban3 and Urban4 also had a long tenure in the Quake 2 based mod. NRGizeR, while not as well known as Gerbil! had three successful releases which centered around the town of Malax, Finland. Wetwired was a relative unknown, until the tail end of my tenure at the AQMD. His maps were some of the most creative and unique maps to date for Action.

So my point being, is with these three level designers, we could recreate many of the popular levels which had a starring role in Action Quake 2. But we have vowed not to do that. We want Urban Terror to be known for our development, not the development and ideas from years past. There are skeptics who will raise many questions, with as little as two words in response to my question, “Why port Action Quake 2 maps?”

Why not? If these “level designers” go through the proper channels and get approval from the original authors, what harm is there to porting these levels? I don’t know, but I guess it would be difficult call these people actual level designers, since they did not conceive the idea, they took something which was already there and copied it to a newer, more powerful engine. I guess some don’t see that as a problem. Personally, I do. This is the basis of all mod development. Taking a simple idea and building a foundation and watching the mod grow and develop. Not taking another’s work and redesigning or “porting” it to fit a new engine. While our development up to this point may not be completely ground breaking, we have cracked the mold and our development will be much more than Action ever was.

Like many issues there are two sides. What someone believe is wrong, another will call it right. This is true in the development of levels for realism mods. It is understandable that gamers should great levels to live on. By the same token, gamers want to see new and creative environments which push the limits of the more powerful gaming engines and strive to create something which will stand the test of time, like Urban. Hopefully gamers will see through this facade and call for new levels to be created instead of having level designers living off the success of others and calling it “new and improved.”