The ARG.

It’s rare to have anything to discuss when it comes to computer gaming. In my mind the thrill and excitement of gaming has lost it’s luster. This is not because I have become jaded after retiring from game development and supporting the game community for nearly 10 years. I am still impressed to see new games come to term, unfortunately many companies and distributors today don’t give a shit about the gamer, but the bottom line. I guess that makes sense, get some dumb bastard to spend $60 bucks on a game, take WoW for example and then charge them a money service fee to play. Better yet, charge the end user for new content. Nearly all games use some component of this today. I know I have been taken in by it with Rockband 2 and well as a few other XBox 360 games recently.

Back in the late 90s, the actual year is fuzzy and I have not been able to search and find the exact title of the game, there was a game that was played real time, in real life by gamers. The only way to describe it now is by calling it an alternate reality game or “an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.”

I happened to stumble upon this game concept when reading a thread on a UFO hoax at ATS yesterday and they mentioned ARG. I found the concept rather perplexing and decided to give it a further look. Currently, I am reading up on a ARG called SF0 of SF Zero. Your character is “You” and You are tasked to complete objectives, submitting proof when you accomplish a task. There are more dynamics involved in the game, but this is the general principal.

I find the concept rather interesting and definitely off the main stream of computer gaming, yet gaming nonetheless. While computers are involved they are not the primary means of interaction. I am continuing to read about SF0 but the concept does interest me. Just like the original text adventures that paved the way for future games to follow.

** EDIT: Majestic produced by EA was the ARG I was thinking of, which debuted in 2001 and was discontinued a year later.

Gaming Goes Retro: Apple ][

It’s not often I feel the desire to sit down and play computer games any longer. After 10 years of gaming and development I got very tired of seeing the same crap regurgitated from developers, with fancy new packaging and a heftier price tag than the previous year. Development even left a more sour taste in my mouth because gamers are really a thankless bunch, demanding everything and expecting everything, when they paid nothing. But I won’t go down that road, no reason to rehash the past when we can go back to the beginning, when gaming was golden and the adventures were exciting.

It seems just like yesterday I wrote, Textual Healing, here on T6F, which discusses the true roots of computer games, the text based adventures. In reality it was over 2 years ago when games like Zork, Wishbringer and Planetfall resurfaced in my world. With games such as these in mind I move to the early 1980s (late 1979) and the advent of the first graphic based adventures (I played), Mystery House from On-Line Systems (Sierra).

These games took the text based adventure to a new level. Gone were the images the mind created when you were deeply involved in a game like Zork and now could see and “experience” places visually in games. Mystery House was a very simple game, in adventure terms, but was still a solid base from which other adventures were built.

While I don’t spend much time around gaming related web sites any longer, a childhood friend of mine who I was reacquainted with via Facebook brought the Apple ][ emulators to my attention. Why? Because at the time we both owned these and lived just a few doors away from each other and spent countless hours playing these early computer games. The PC had really not taken hold as a gaming platform and Apple was the dominate computer early on. Yet a game like Mystery House ended up retailing for about $24.95, after the first versions were freeware with a $5 donation.

While I still fancy some of the great text based adventures I have been memorized by the likes of Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess, Cranston Manor and the other titles in the ‘Hi-Res Adventure series‘. Graphically, they don’t impress but they were the next best thing after text based adventures. It gets me back to my roots of computer gaming, which has spanned some 29 years! Mind boggling if I actually think about it.

Currently I am searching through archived games found at VirtualApple.org and going back to a time gone by, when games were simple, enjoyable and left a lasting impression. Unlike many of the games today that are old news a few weeks later. This is a great way to waste some downtime at work or, if you are like me to kill many hours at home. For those who never owned an Apple ][ I don’t think you will get the same joy and excitement, but I still recommend you give it shot.?

Why is it…

…that gamers all think they know what is best? You don’t! The argument I always hear is, “you don’t play the game enough.” Which, I’ll agree I don’t because I have a family, a job and many other real world responsibilities to take care of. As do many others in the community. I also hear, “let me help, I played since the start and know exactly….blah blah blah” Oh, you do?

I guess 9 years of development and the team still is clueless when it comes to how we should development and promote the game of Urban Terror. One could say we are still learning and we have no idea how to get over this hump. Okay, so I am being a bit facetious with those last two comments. But I had an IRC discussion with a gamer who came at me with, “I played it since start know exactly what u need to change to make it really popular again.”

Whoa money, slow your roll. Correct me if I am wrong, but currently there are more players playing then ever before. Yes, even a larger percentage of gamers playing then back int he 2.x days. I was told, “there was always at least 10,000 [gamers]”, which is not true, Quake III Arena NEVER had that many gamers. Hell, Counter-Strike brought in about 75,000 at times. So we must have done something right along the way to be here 9 years later with gamers at a record high.

Checking GameSpy Stats, we still are the top “mod” (game) for Quake III Arena and rival other retail games such as Soldier of Fortune 2, BF 1942, AA and even ET: Quake Wars. The gamer to server ratio is much higher then any previous version as well. Again a testament to the community.

In this conversation, I will give the anonymous individual one point. In a recent poll when asked what version did you start playing Urban Terror, an overwhelming majority began with 4.x. So there are many new gamers being injected into the community. Again new gamers are not going to have the perspective many old school Urban Terrorists will. This gamer has been around since 2001 and is a good player, but his rational to make it “really a great game” and “a lot more popular with the right adjustments” is a bit skewed.

Many within the community, especially those who were never asked to participate in the quality assurance testing will usually point fingers saying they could have done a better job or how did QA miss this or that. Having an upcoming release, “carefully tested by a few group of very good players” is not how we approaching testing. We cannot cater to the so-called “pro gamer” we must development for a common denominator in the community. This is why the QA team has never been stacked with only clan gamers because you must take into consideration all skill levels and abilities.

The idea of tweaking weapon characteristics does not excite the development team or the community. There is always a collective groan when we mention we are tweaking a weapon. Look at the ruckus raised with a minor change to the SR-8. Have some freakin’ cheese with your whine! So adjusting recoil, damage or spray in order to reward a gamers aim is not going to be met with open arms.

I think many gamers would agree the weapons are acceptable (outside the thoughts on the SR-8) with the latest release. Could there be some changes? Sure, there is always room for change, if that change will truly be beneficial. I don’t think reducing damage and modifying the recoil on weapons will bring new gamers into the community. Sorry, neither does the team.

We have some definite winners when it comes to future ideas, but none of those will be implemented until we know for sure we can be reward with bags of money. Sure these ideas might not be meet with open arms by all, but then again what idea ever is? These ideas are nothing new and have been used in many other games, but it is something that gamers seem to drool over and yearn for more. Just like increasing your post count to see a new tag under your alias other than “Urban Loser.”

Urban Terror. The Real Deal?

While I was not around when the concept for Urban Terror was originally conceived, I was a few months late to the party, but was able to become a member of the development team prior to the end of 1999. I have experienced much in the lifetime of Urban Terror and honestly I never thought I would be talking about it in 2008. Who would think a game concept from a teenager would see so much success in the future.

The future. Success. Just how successful has Urban Terror been? We were invited by id Software to Quakecon in 2000 and 2001 in order to show off our work on the game, as well as host a few round table presentations for gamers to attend. We met personally with members of id Software including Kevin Cloud, Robert Duffy and Marty Stratton. After the 2000 event, myself and Sam, aka dokta8 were invited by Activision to their Santa Monica offices to talk about the future of Urban Terror. Both of these events were the proverbial “feather in the cap” sort of experiences.

The Activision meeting would have been more productive IF we actually went in with the idea there was going to be a future for the game. Unfortunately, in 2000 the developers were really nothing more than enthusiasts who enjoyed developing the game as a hobby. Looking back, we probably did more harm than good for any future the game could potentially have.

The mod has been featured in worldwide publications from the UK, France and here in the US, as well as some of the newspapers and countless web sites wanting interviews. Again, a taste of success, but nothing that really put more then a temporary spotlight on what we had achieved.

Urban Terror was never as successful as Counter-Strike, then again very few games will EVER reach that status again, especially coming from the mod scene. It makes me wonder, the tenure we have with Urban Terror, the strong community support and now the ability to play Urban Terror without paying for Quake III, why are developers/publishers not taking notice?

In reality Urban Terror is a small fish in a big ocean, a REALLY big ocean. We have seen many retail games come and go with success so short lived it makes your head spin. Maybe I shoulder the responsibility as Project Coordinator/Public Relations saying I have not met expectations that were set. Of course, we were not incorporated until a few years ago, when Urban Terror was already established and the founders of FrozenSand, LLC now have a direction and goal they want to pursue.

That goes back to the question, why is Urban Terror not getting noticed? Part of it stems from the aging Quake III engine,we definitely had some good use out of the engine, but maybe we should start looking for a new, next generation engine to move the game to.

Urban Terror has never been heavy on the artistic side. With that said, I take nothing away from BladeKiller or the others who have spent years, countless hours and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get the game looking like it does. But the fact is, developers and publishers want a game heavy in art assets. This is something we did hear when our demo was played by some professional developers.

Over the years we have concentrated more on game play, which you think would play a prominent role among developers, but I can’t think of any game I come back to other then Urban Terror because of the game play. This is echoed by gamers in the community, some who leave and return version or years later because of the game play. Now, if we were heavy on the art assets, would Urban Terror get the notoriety it deserves?

Nothing is ever just handed to you on a golden platter. We have been given nothing, but earned everything over the years. Our hard work, effort and commitment to Urban Terror, the community and most importantly to our fellow development team members makes us thankful for the success we have achieved. Who knows, maybe with v4.x release series we will be able to promote the game more heavily and possibly get some developers/publishers/bags of money interested in what we have to offer, not only in the game but as a development team.

“I” in Management?

Not sure when Merriam-Webster changed the spelling of the word, ‘management‘ to include the letter ‘I‘ but I have taken note and will make no further mistake when I spell it. I bring this word up because this is something our company lacks, especially at our station. Now that I have worked at two major West Coast stations I can say it is a company thing and not a station thing. Not sure why either. Unfortunately management at this levels sucks! It sucks because unlike managers being team players, they are only out for themselves. I saw it in Los Angeles and seeing it again in San Francisco.

There was a time in my current tenure at this company where I thought I would make a good manager because I knew how to run an efficient operation. Unfortunately, as company politics go, the system bucked me for an “empty skirt.” Now I don’t want women to take offense to this term. Some of the best people I have worked for in the past have been women, but that is not the case now at my current company. Never has been.

I arrived in San Francisco with a “clean slate” and a handful of opportunities, or so I thought. I had a good, clean record, was dependable and was hoping to better my position with a chance to be a manager. I was coached and prepped for the interview, which I successfully passed. This was a big step in my “professional development” or so I thought. I found out after the fact that one of the two positions was given to an “empty skirt” because upper management wanted a woman in the position. *shakes head* The other position was given to a guy, from the Midwest. I was told I was not offered the position because no one at the station knew me. Yet, they knew an unknown from Denver? Figure that out.

So this “empty skirt” spent a minimum amount of time at this position and was already considered a “corporate darling” and destined for bigger things. Remember I talked about the inner circle at my company, who is in and who is out? So she spent her time and the company CREATED a higher management position for her. Just freaking crazy! Needless to say, she was replaced with another “empty skirt” who was another darling looking to move through this position, get her operational experience and move on.

As politics go, this just happened. She is moving into that “created” position the previous manager took. I guess this is a logical move up the corporate ladder. So that leaves an open manager position in our department. I said this about 8 months ago, but I believe they are leaving this position open as a developmental position and will shuffle those “corporate darlings” through this position to get their required operational experience and move them onto another manager position. I guarantee it will be another “empty skirt” to fill the void by the middle of September.

Until the day I resign, I will never figure out why this company operates the way it does. There was no bigger supporter of this company then myself when I started. It is unfortunate, but the company has run some very good people out the door, people who really could have made a difference. Not saying I could make a difference if I were in a manager position, but there was a time I was a “team player” and did care, unfortunately with the way local management works, its all one can do to smile when you walk through the door.