Urban Terror: Close the Door

Since leaving the development team and Urban Terror, nearly 2 years ago I have yet to return to online gaming. The motivations for my departure and retirement were purely personal. For me, I had gone as far as I could with development as it was quite clear the game would never flourish as I had hoped for during the early years.

It’s quite rare I even bring the name, Urban Terror up because it’s a part of my past and I have moved on, leaving the community, the web sites and activities to others in order to cultivate. I still have an informal tie to the community as I continue to hold the rights to the domain name.

I happened upon a conversation today with an individual who is still around the community and as I understand it, the community and the game are not the same. I can’t speak to that, but can only surmise the problems plaguing the community/game now. While I never had a direct hand in any development, it was the community who drove the game to the success it had upon my departure.

Of course the development team was at the core of the community, with talented individuals leaving their mark and moving on. The early years were truly the “best of times” for me personally. Being courted by id Software, visiting their offices, participating in Quakecon, jet setting to Los Angeles for E3, being featured on Tech TV are just some of the highlights I take with me. Of course those days are all in the past and rarely do I even cast a glance at the newest PC games on the market because it’s “more of the same.”

With that said, there is still something to say about those individuals who continue to support the game after so many years. I have a few individuals in mind who, through thick and thin stuck it out with the development team. Not sure if I were on the outside looking in, like I was with Action Quake II if I could have continued for nearly 10 years even with a game I enjoyed

Being in the rare position I was, between the community and the game I had a unique perspective and seemed to get opinions from everyone. For many, I was the voice/face/name of Urban Terror, but never did I attempt to take credit. While I was involved, I left the real development/design to the talented individuals that knew how to code a feature, or create a model, uvwrap it and skin it. I was highly impressed with those who were level designers, but that was not my calling.
Unfortunately, it was “never quite good enough” for some. The worst place to be the day of a point release was on the community support forums. This was my domain, a place I controlled and supported and nurtured from the beginning. It was a unique feeling creating a community from virtually nothing to a strong community of supporters we had when I departed. I was amazed at the success and the ride I had been privy to.

Maybe my departure gave rise to someone with new ideas and new blood to bring something into the community to improve the game. While some may disagree I took a lot with me the day I left. Much of the unwritten history left with me. Many gigabytes of files continue to reside on my archived hard drives that will most likely never be accessed again.

Most of all I remember the people, behind every alias, either in game, via e-mail or on IRC there is a person. I was fortunate enough to meet a small percentage of these people over the years. The strongest bonds were between the long standing development team members. The same can be said for the long time supporters in the community, the people I entrusted files or hosting to. There were some great people behind the scenes who rarely got a mention. Maybe they hosted files or ran a web site or always put in a word of praise to the community, game or development team. While I will probably never communicate with these individuals again, they were a special part of the community and one of the things I held close though out my tenure.

Often times I was referred to as, “not a developer” because I did not provide any content for the game. While that is a true statement, it could not be further from the truth. I was a development team member and played an integral role that was often overlooked. Many individuals involved couldn’t or wouldn’t do what I did over the course of 10 years. While not the most important aspect of the game or community, I brought Urban Terror to life though the use of shoutcasting, when online gaming radio stations were still in their infancy.

My use of the radio medium introduced a new dimension to online gaming that was rarely seen previously. I attempted to stress the importance of the community, wanting feedback and information from supporters in order to strengthen the radio show on a weekly basis. By far, the most important portion of the show, aside from my bad, 80’s music was the development team update. This was sometimes a futile attempt to provide up to the minute information about development.

The second part of this new medium was acting as a commentator during online matches. I spent many hours a week dedicated to my radio shows and broadcasts. It would have been enough to just cover the match, but our community was something special and they deserved more. I had a pre and post game report, as well as commentary and sometimes guest casters on air.

This, to me was my calling for the game and it went a long way in the community. Yet some failed to see the connection. In the end I was burned out, tired. Maybe it was the years of abuse I took never really striking back or going off, unless completely necessary. A few examples spring to mind. When I initially got involved I wanted to see this development through to a defined end. For me, that will never happen as I dropped everything in a blink of an eye and walked away, never to return.

But, as I said early on the friendships you make will last a lifetime. The memories remain, but may fade as years go by. For the most part these were good times, never great, but good enough to keep you going for just a bit longer. Hopefully those involved now have an idea of where the game came from and of those who came before.

Updating Old School Levels

Sometimes I wish I could put myself in your shoes, as a gamer on the outside looking in at the development team and Urban Terror. I can only use my limited experience playing Action Quake 2 and visiting the forums, as a gamer to compare with the gamers involved in the Urban Terror Community. Like many who play Urban Terror, I didn’t spend hours a days (even when I was playing games a lot) on the forums. I had no reason to, I wanted to play not bullshit with gamers in the community.

Urban Terror might be considered unique because of the longevity of the mod (which is free to play using the iourbanterror.exe) since its first release in 2000. Eight years and the game now seems to be pulling better numbers then we did 5 years ago! That is truly a testament to YOU in the community.

What many don’t understand is our rational for dropping “old school” levels or updating old levels in a way that they no longer give gamers that “old school” feeling. For example, Streets of Terror (ut_streets) was included in the v1.0 release of Urban Terror. It was a highly popular level because of its fast game play and simplistic layout. It was decided to update this level and include it in a later release. While the original .map file did exist, opening in QERadiant was a level designer’s nightmare.

I spent the better part of a month working on updating the level, fixing the brushwork trying to optimize the level for improved FPS. I did not intend to completely rebuild the level, but after discussion with INVIS and a few others more knowledgeable in level design, the more rational fix was to rebuild it. This is just what INVIS did.

Unfortunately, like many of Joe’s levels, Streets 2 was not well received. The original concept behind Streets was preserved, a simple block of a city, but Joe being Joe, truly went above and beyond, as he does with his levels and created a stunning looking level. Many believed the game play suffered because there level was much larger now, due to some underground passages and other alternate routing that was added.

When future development rolled around the team decided to drop support for many of the original levels: Streets, Docks, Trainyard, Mbase, Pressure Zone, Ricochet, Revolution, Hotel and Swim, just to name a few.

The “why” is never really understood though. Citing “developmental reasons” does not satisfy or sit well with some in the community. The Streets example should tell the story as to why there have not been more of the old school levels revived. In most cases (WetWired’s work aside possibly) each of these levels required a complete rebuild for one reason or another. Even now Swim does not support more then 6v6 or any true game modes by TS and TDM. Why, because there needs to be some major work done to the level in order to present it as we want it. That level did come back, maybe not as good as it could have been, but gamers seem satisfied by it.

Some gamers on the Urban Terror Forums continue to push the issue. Do they have a valid argument? Looking in, as many gamers do, sure they probably do. But once we have said our peace or a community member has stated valid response (not STFU!), then I think the issue should fall by the wayside.

To sum it up, here is how it works. If you want an old school level revived you have a few options:

1. Get authorization from the level designer who originally created the level. If you cannot get them to respond, then you cannot update their level.
2. Get authorization from the development team. We have provided some community level designers with the .map and have tested their changes before reintroducing the level back into Urban Terror.
3. Use the exact layout of a particular level you favor and create your OWN level based on a previous level (2Fort is a prime example in TF2).
4. If none of these answers are satisfactory, then consider the issue dead and the level to remain in the Urban Terror archive.

If none of the above reasons are to your satisfaction then sorry we cannot help you. We ask all gamers to respect our work and not update/modify/port our levels without consent. Of course some asshats disregard anything we say and do what they want. Hopefully you are not one of them.

Future Development

December, 1999. That was the year I became a member of the development team working on an unknown Quake III Arena modification called Urban Terror. After 8 years there are a dedicated few who still turn the gears that drive continued development of the mod. Based on the figures, the number of players today are just as strong, almost better than years back, when v1.27-v2.0 were at their high points. That is a testament to the support of the development team that the product is still a quality product, even if the engine is outdated. It is also a testament to the gaming community, not only those who make the core but also the new gamer who is welcomed into the community.

I have the utmost respect for the folks I have known for years who founded FrozenSand, LLC. They are a highly talented group, who given the resources could really take the Urban Terror concept and go retail with it. Unfortunately, game development is not that simple. Venture capitalists are not found on every street corner ready to thrown out millions in development costs for an unknown potential in return.

Unfortunately my current position on the team has faded. I’ll be the first to admit I never played a big role in actual development, I make that no secret. I never learned to code anything past Basic and Integer on my old Apple computer. I have no skill to create models or turning a blank model into a highly detailed character. I did give level design a shot after loading up Radiant. Unfortunately, time is one thing you need as a level designer in order to create a quality level. Time was something I did not have much of, but I did learn quite a bit. I never considered myself an expert, but I could tell a good level from a piece of shit.

So what did I do? Initially I took over running the public relations side of development. This I was good at, still am, but nearly 9 years later the game sells itself. It does not need much promotion (regardless of what some individuals think). Of course when a new version is released, the information will make the rounds on some game related web sites.

Gamers in the Urban Terror community are treated considerably different than in other community. Of course you would think some have never played an FPS game and don’t feel they need to take the time to read some basic instructions on how to set up your keys for the game. Somehow that responsibility ends up falling on the development team. Why, I still don’t know. Overall the gamers make the game an enjoyable experience and go out of their way at times to assist new gamers in the Urban Terror experience.

So after all these years what does the game need? Why do we continue to see “request for new features” those days are long since gone. There are very few features that need to be added to improve the game. I do think the best thing would be to put this version of the game to rest by finishing development (which has ALWAYS been a goal of ours), take a break and work on a new project. Gamers out there always ask, “but what happens to Urban Terror?” As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” But at this point it is the community that keeps the game alive, not the development.

Many of those involved for years have received no pay and have put up with lots of bullshit, to put it bluntly. We continue to believe we have a great game that will continue to taste success, but for the health of the development team we must move on, especially if we want to take our talents to retail.

As I have written before, what does the future hold for FrozenSand? I don’t know. We have some different ideas kicking around. Sure there were ideas to port Urban Terror to Enemy Territory, followed by working on a concept demo (MX was the working title) in order to showcase our talents. While neither of those panned out we still have other ideas that could not only benefit the development team by those in the community we have created.

We continue to hear and read different rumors as to what we doing. While I won’t confirm or deny what our next move is, I will say we look forward to working on projects in the future. As for Urban Terror, hopefully we see it on an updated game engine with improved graphics and the same style/speed of game play.

Urban Radio Returns! Again!

…or the first time since December 31, 2005 Urban Radio will return to the air on Inside the Game on Friday. For infrequent readers of T6F, this is an online radio show I created about 4 years ago in support of the Quake III mod, Urban Terror. I have been fortunate to host some 100+ episodes of the show and tomorrow is a special day as we get back in the saddle and provide oodles of information for the gaming community.

Over the course of the past 12-18 months, there has not been much information the development team had to pass along. The show was once a weekly part of the community, but due to personal reasons and life priorities the show was not able to be maintained and I had to stop producing it. But with all the information we have had coming out of the development team, it seems Urban Radio could provide another spark to an already excited community, with the new version of Urban Terror near release.

We are in the middle of ‘The 27 Days of Terror’ on the urbanterror.net site, but there has been no new information for two days, after we introduced a game feature called ‘powersliding.’ I figured such an exciting feature needed a little “extra time” to be absorbed by the community. That and the fact I was busy working on the radio show, which should prove to be the missing part of the 27 Days equation.

Hopefully all the musings in the community, on the forums and IRC will equate to a great radio show! It is my intentions to hopefully start up the show on a regular basis every Friday in order to bring the community up to date on the latest in the community and from the development team. I can already guarantee we will a release day version of Urban Radio. Stay tuned for more details.

Oswald Rant: Interaction Not Reaction

Who really controls the direction of a mod? I guess this is a rhetorical question with an obvious answer. The development team of course. But do they really have total control or should they pay attention to their community and the product they are developing. I will bring up a few factors, such as interact and communication that are sometimes overlooked when it comes to mod development. The main responsibility of any team is to create a successful product. Hopefully with a bit of information and some re-education, mod teams can really take their development to the next level by involving their community in the development process.

The relationship a development team has with their community should be a give and take relationship. There should be an open line of communication between the two parties, so they can interact. Many mods I have experienced, have a development team who is not really “gamer oriented.” What I mean by this is, they do not like to interact and spend time with those who are supporting the mod team’s creation. Why wouldn’t you? Unless your development reputation precedes you as a “Mod God,” developers really need to pay attention to what goes on in their community.

Unfortunately, some developers come off as being “high and mighty,” acting as if they are above the mod they have created. Rarely these teams interact with their community, or when they do they come off with an attitude that leaves the community with an uncomfortable feeling. Remember these impressions can set the tone the community takes towards the development team and the mod. These gamers are also the ones who support your mod and want it to be successful. So ignoring this group is not highly advisable.

A little interaction with the community can pave the way for a solid relationship on which both the community and developer can build on. Rarely will there be a time when these two parties meet face to face in the real world, the only correspondence comes in the form of online communication, such as e-mail and forums. This is when words become a powerful tool for the developers, but used improperly can ruin any mod. Learn how to communication effectively online when talking to your community.

Being able to create a supportive online community can really provide added incentive for a mod developer. Gamers who are active and participate feel as if they are an extension of mod, by offering feedback, which will help to improve the mod they love. Unfortunately, many times comments are rarely responded to by the development team and the gamer is left wondering if he is getting though to the team. In defense of developers, unless the mod team has an individual dedicated to continually corresponding and interacting with the community, development of the mod is the primary responsibility and rightly so. Forums are a virtual gold mine for developers, as many insightful topics are touched upon, including where to improve the mod and current issues that need to be addressed.

In the end, the development process is left to the mod team, but without gamers to support that mod, it is destined to fail. As a gamer, it is nice to see developers participate in discussions. An excellent example can be seen in the Quake 3 World Forums, as Paul Jaquays and Todd Hollenshead of id Software often post and respond to the community. A small presence can often go a long way. Hopefully development teams will make use of the people skills in order to strengthen the support for the mod they are developing.