Bending Reality

Been what, 10 days since my last ranting about some asshat gamer KNOWING what would bring more gamers to Urban Terror. *sigh* Okay, so I digress I know I am always on about this. But lets move past that for now and onto another topic that spotlighted the Urban Terror Community last week.

Games for Windows had a small blurb on the Free Play page that listed Urban Terror as a game that gamers should take a second look at. Why? FREE! That is a word all gamers enjoy seeing. Especially after 9 years of development, the game rivals any retail game out there in terms of game play.

If we were to actually put more time and effort into working on the game, I know for a fact some of the remaining issues would be worked out and it would be even more polished. This would also help to bring new gamers into the community, along with some “new” features we brainstormed that would seriously take the game to the next level.

With that said, let’s segway into Quakecon 2008, Dallas, Texas starting July 31. I have reserved a room at the hotel in which the event is being held at. The wife wants to go, as she has never attended and a contingency of her [former?] clan will be setting up and playing Urban Terror for 3 days straight.

Right now, we are on the fence as to our attendance. I am not sure I want to deal with the headache of getting myself, the wife and our son on an airplane for 3 hours to DFW. Does not sound like fun, especially when my wife hates to fly and my son has never been, so he might get a kick out of it. But that only leads to another problem. The need to watch him for 3 days while the event is going on.

Just sounds like too many variables I don’t want to work out, outside costing a few thousand dollars in air fare, hotel, transportation and meals. Hell, we might as well take a REAL vacation and go somewhere to relax instead of sitting in a large sweatbox with sweaty, smell kids. Does not sound like fun.

Still waiting on the Xbox to return from service AGAIN! No word, no nothing from MS or the contractor in Mesquite, Texas where I sent it to get fixed. Oh I can’t wait to get my 1-month free LIVE! card. JUST FIX THE DAMN MACHINE YOU JACKHOLES! That is all I ask!

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.

Milking the Franchise

Sitting on the thinking man’s throne this morning, thumbing through another bad review magazine called Games for Windows I came across the cover story, The Next Battlefield. I am…well, was a supporter of DICE, developers behind Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 2 and a lesser known, but enjoyable title, Codename Eagle, released in 1999.

DICE was able to take MMOFPS to a new level with Battlefield 1942, large, sprawling levels, vehicles and a wide range of weapons. It was a turning point in realism gaming genre. Game play, while not uber strong was on the higher side of good, not great, but with a few buddies, it made for a kick ass time.

Since then the game play value has really gone downhill compared to the graphical value of the Battlefield franchise. Add-ons and special weapons rewarded to those who level up by spending a bazillion hours playing. I lost all interest when DICE/EA started to roll out the addons, like BF: Vietnam and Secret Weapons.

Last year I picked up The Orange Box for the XBox 360. If you have read T6F before, you know I am not a big fan of the console, since many games leave a lot to be desired and cost a pretty penny to buy. TF2 was different. Now I remember back to the late 90s when Valve announced TF2, which (or the era) had some great looking graphics, but it turned out to *poof* vanish, much like vaporware does.

But Valve redeemed themselves with The Orange Box that included an all new version of TF2. While not the strongest game in collection, it did turn my head and I found the styling and game play above many other games that were highly touted. The cartoonish models, each with their own set of weapons and characteristics brought an entirely new look and feel to the FPS genre.

Now DICE…err…EA, whom I am sure pulls many of the strings is looking to continue milk the BF franchise with the announcement of a FREE…yes, a free game called Battlefield Heroes. Of course DICE defends their position saying it was evolutionary development, something they had on the drawing board years ago, but interestingly enough is announced months after a highly success Orange Box release that included a similar styled TF2.

Gamers, even hardcore gamers are not into upgrading their rigs with the impending release of the “next big release” such as Crysis or Unreal Tournament 3. Personally, I am not going to upgrade because neither of those titles really do much for me.

TF2, while not relying heavily on detailed and fancy graphics did do a wonderful job on game play. Unfortunate, as I have said before game play does not sell units, good, highly detailed and fancy looking art assets do. And sorry, demos don’t do shit, expect get you excited for a potential game, only to be let down after the developer and publisher get your $50-$60 bucks in their pocket.

So BF: Heroes, until TF2 will be free. Will the hardcore BF gamer actually loosen up and find interest in this sort of cartoon warfare? Dunno. All I can do is base it off the game play I have experienced with TF2. The article says game play will not be as “realistic” or hardcore for the n00bs. Because it was no fun to drop into a BF game, take two rounds and wait 15 seconds to respawn.

I do think DICE has looked at the success that Valve had with TF2 and is attempting to capitalize on it, regardless of their, “it’s been on the table” comment. Will they be successful? Sure, I think there will be a strong contingent that rally around this cartoon FPS to launch a new sort of genre. I do think others will follow in the footsteps of Valve and DICE.

Working as a mod team, as FrozenSand (formerly Silicon Ice Development) has for 9 years, we were always limited by hardware restrictions. Using the Quake III engine, gamers did not want to upgrade their systems in order to play a mod. Thankfully at the heart of our development has been a very strong game play component, with art assets as secondary.

While neither of these games will have any effect on Urban Terror, I do think we see a new movement in the realism-based FPS. Gone will be the hardcore, highly detailed shooters, to be replaced by a nice, easier version of a similar game. I do think the hardcore gamer won’t be pleased, but when you develop games you must do so with a common denominator in mind. I’ll be curious to see how this new type of shooter fairs.

Never Stop Learning

As with nearly anything you do, be it in life, your job, a hobby, never stop learning. This is the essence of who each of us are. Maybe 25 years ago as a teen in high school I didn’t want to learn because there were so many extracurricular activities to partake in, such as sports and girls.

Now that I am older, a member of the daily workforce I have adopted the adage of “never stop learning.” Maybe 13 months of training at BART got this ingrained in my head because it will still be 3-5 years before there is a “comfort level” in my position.

While not a stated resolution for 2008, I have begun looking into some actual development work. I have stated from day one on Urban Terror, I am on the development team and may use the term, “developer” but outside one, digital photo of a blue rail car, I have not lent any development to Urban Terror. To be honest, I am completely fine with that, as are many of the members with whom I have worked over the years.

Recently, I started looking for online college course, which would help me better myself as a “developer.” Maybe not for Urban Terror, but for future projects that FrozenSand might create. After talking to CrazyButcher and Flash, both of whom worked on Urban Terror I decided to skip paying the money at a junior college and teach myself modeling and animation.

While books will teach you the basics of anything you do, experience and practice are what make you excel. Thanks to a few recommendations from Flash, I picked up a book titled, ‘Modeling a Character in 3DS Max‘ by Paul Steed, former modeler/animator for id Software.

Along with that book (which I have not started, but skimmed through) I bought ‘Introducing 3ds MAX 2008‘ from Autodesk, which will help introduce the basics to 3D Studio Max. I also obtained a copy of “Max” and have begun learning.

To date, since Friday, I have modeled a baby’s mobile (you know that toy that hangs over a baby crib) and animated it. While the scene uses simple primatives (shapes) and no fancy animation it was a nice, simple introduction of what is to come.

Depending on what happens with the current iteration of Urban Terror, I might have a chance to model/animate a weapon or a character. Nonetheless I am excited with the prospects of learning these skills, as well as talking to people like BladeKiller, TwentySeven, Flash, CrazyButcher and others I respect based on their work and work ethics.

Owed What?

Why is it that some gamers think they are owed something in return for playing a game? I have never understood this. Some of those same messages are alive and kicking today in Urban Terror as well and have been for some time.

I can recall Action Quake 2, when the development team announced they would no longer support the game because of the bitching and complaining from the community. The game had lost its luster and was no longer enjoyable. Hmm, sound familiar?

If you waste a hard earned $60 on a retail game, you have a right to bitch, but unlike mod development your voice will usually fall upon deaf ears. While not every mod team approaches their work the same way, in a small, close community change is possible. No guaranteed, just possible.

Regardless of your tenure playing/supporting, respect is something that is earned, not only as a developer, but as a gamer. You cannot walk in, announce your presence, throw a few fresh words and ideas out and expect it to be well received. Urban Terror, as an example has a well informed and supportive community. Why? Because the developers took an active roll and earned the respect of those gamers. The is true some individuals in the community, not necessarily gamers, but admins and those who support Urban Terror.

So knock the chip off your shoulder, relax and enjoy your game. There is no sense walking around a community you frequent tossing around accomplishments and achievement, wanting to know what you will get in return from others. Above all have fun, that is what gaming is all about.