GUEST PIECE And look at that, everyone! With the rush of E3 having ended, and with all of the tears having been collected (or excitement, I suppose), it's time to return to business as usual and resume the articles. Did you miss me? Don't be shy! Well, anyways, I'm just the messenger today, because we have a guest contribution. Let's give a nice warm welcome to Taleweaver! I'm going to go ahead and pass him the talking rock now, I've said all I needed to say. *coughs* And here is Taleweaver, talking about Unreal Tournament III! I probably shouldn't need to introduce Unreal Tournament. Released in 1999, it was the direct competitor for Id's Quake 3 and known by probably all PC gamers. Those two games put fast-paced action first person shooters on the map and into the collective consciousness as gamers. UT holds high places in many "best game ever"-lists of gaming fanatics, and that's not taking into account that the game shipped with great mod support and a full-blown editor. It sprouted a community of only very few games can compare to. In fact, there are still maps being made for it this very day! Of course it had sequels. UT 2003 was quickly forgotten as UT 2004 was released a year later with all the content of UT2003, as well as about twice the maps and stuff it had from itself. The movement mechanics were quite different but each one had a flourishing community that created maps, models, mutators (a kind of mini-mod that only changed small parts of the gameplay and could be combined with other mutators) and mods. Meanwhile, Epic - the creators of the Unreal-franchise - worked on other projects. For community members, this went mostly below the radar. They patched it where serious bugs arose and created a couple map packs for free, but went on with their own projects that had nothing to do with UT. Then came UT3. This was...a disappointment. History-wise, it ended up as just another generic shooter. And comparing it to today's game launch failures or money grabs I shouldn't even be talking about it. But the more I read up on those, the more it all sounded familiar. I had seen it all at the end of 2007. And that's what this article is about. And why, if you're new to the unreal franchise, UT3 should be the last one to try out... Before Release I think the first news of "a new UT" came early 2006. There wasn't much known at that time, so aside from a few visual teasers, there was nothing to go on. But there was some critique as to the name. UT2007? The original UT (or UT99 as it is often referred to) took place somewhere in the far future, so UT2003 and UT2004 were pretty weird names nobody asked for. UT2004 introduced vehicles (in the onslaught mode) of which UT fans weren't fond of, so discussions on epic's boards were pretty hectic. However, when it came to the name, pretty much everyone agreed that it should have been changed. This was a forum maintained and moderated by some key epic employees, mind you, so it's not like this wasn't known. We got our wish in the end. The name was changed to UT3 at a certain point...when it became clear that it wouldn't be released until the end of 2007. Nevertheless, the community remained loyal. After all, it was said the PC community was whom they made the game for (their "bread and butter", to quote Mark Rein). Sure, the game would be released for PS3 and xbox360 as well, but while some were concerned, it was just a minority. At that time. Things would change with the demo. This was said to be released at a point where feedback was still appreciated and would make it into the game. Nonetheless, two things clearly stood out: 1. The interface. This was almost immediately pointed out to be a monstrosity. Numerous different windows that were slow to navigate (there was a level flyby in the background that you could hardly see but slowed down things considerably) and had you confirm even stupid things. 2. Gears of War feeling. This was even advertised: "from the makers that brought you Gears of War!!!". No doubt it was aimed at console-owners (GoW wasn't even released on PC at that time), but why was the overall feel one of dark and grey-ish tone? Despite of what was said, when the game was released a few months later, that and more was still prevalent.It was the beginning of what would became known as "a lousy PC port of a console game". Console Port I'm not a PC-master race enthusiast in the slightest. I play both, and roughly on an equal basis. They're both fun. But it's important to know that they are fundamentally different. Both from designer perspective as from gamer perspective. At first, I honestly couldn't imagine why that interface was so horrible. Even more so because UT2004 and UT had a totally different interface, but a great one nonetheless (you had pretty much all the options a few mouse clicks away). It was because it was built for consoles. Text had to be big and options were limited. Since the previous games were PC exclusive, this didn't matter that much. Heck...you even had an 'advanced options' item in which you could turn on lens flares, set advanced keybindings, hack .ini files and so on. Now, with three different platforms to design for, epic had to make concessions and dumb down something that was (admittedly) a bit too complex to begin with. It was less forgiving that multiplayer was a downright disaster. You needed a Gamespy account to log into the game, even when playing single player. That needed a name you couldn't change, so some of my friends had to pick a different name because their own was taken. But it gets worse: the server browser didn't work properly most of the time. Favorites or buddies were impossible to add. And for a game that is so focussed on multiplayer, that it was almost like forgetting the jump button on a Mario game. Every game has their newbies and their veterans, and it's important for both groups that you can find players of your own skill. UT3 did the exact opposite. Movement tricks were also severely neutered compared to previous versions. I admit UT2004 was taking things too far in the opposite direction (UT2004 had the 'dodge jump', which pretty much had players do that constantly) but playing UT3 felt like playing as a concrete brick. Levels were designed with less vertical movement than in previous games, and then we should probably be thankful that the idea to have PS3 and PC gamers play on similar servers got canceled. If I recall correctly, the console versions are 30% slower than the PC counterpart. Again: this isn't to rub in the superiority of keyboard/mouse over a gamepad but in a fast paced game like UT there's just no contest. And let's not forget linux support. Or rather: let's actually do exactly that. Up to UT2004, that support was there. Not exactly high-end stuff but it worked natively. And from what I read, most servers hosting online matches ran linux. Nonetheless, nothing was there for UT3. From insider information I've heard that this wasn't because the engine couldn't run it or that it took too much effort...it was because of political reasons. It's not that hard to point a blaming finger, but without solid proof to back that up, I'd better not go there. And keep it at "UT3 had no linux support". Lastly...level creation. I haven't made UT3 levels myself, but I've heard that while the editor itself was as good as before, you not only had to compile a level but also to "cook" it. IIRC, the latter one ensured that it could be played on a console. Not that that mattered much, because levels had to be checked by epic before they could be pushed to consoles. I admit my memories of this are a bit vague, but I do remember some grievance from mappers who plain refused to make a map for the ones with a console version. Sort of blaming those users for the decisions that were made in the creation of the game. Influences of Other Games It was only years later that I've played Gears of War (and for what it's worth: it's both a fun game and one where gamepads are the better option). So it is only since then that I can say the complaints that UT3 leaned too much on gears of war's visual style is absolutely correct. And it was damaging this game. Bulky and generic armor? Check! Perhaps it is better to look at it in a broader context. Remember when in the mid-nineties 3D became the latest thing? Suddenly every game had to be 3D, no matter what. Then there was the multiplayer hype: even the most single player heavy had to have a multiplayer component. Why? To have a multiplayer component. UT3 was what you would could call a "too realistic" fest. I'm not putting it in words very well, but you know what I mean. What isn't gritty is grey. What isn't grey is shiney or oily. That sort of thing. UT3 was like that. It was what you would get if you let a gothic teenager decorate an abandoned factory or a blown up castle ruins. One of the signatures of the game was its diversity in map themes. From skyscrapers to pyramids to lava castles to futuristic cities. This was seriously nerfed down to oriental, industrial and heavy gothic theme (Necris). Generic and gritty. Gotta love those visuals. And the singleplayer campaign...sigh. It's that I can't facepalm and write at the same time or I would be doing it. The gameplay is still traditional deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and warfare (which is basically 'capture their base' with vehicles). All previous UT's had the minimal story of a bloodsports where teams where shooting it out over some huge-ass trophy that was only shown in the end credits. Not exactly an awardwinning story, but it got the job done. UT3 tossed that out of the window in exchange for a story of a team of ronin whose colony is invaded by...erm...some guys...and they want to get revenge by taking out respawners that somehow... Ah, screw it. On paper, it may have looked campy and hilarious. But with aforementioned gritty and dark look, it failed horribly. Zelda CD-i kind of horribly (don't get me started on how retarded "Field Latent Generators" is as an excuse to capture a flag). I can understand epic wanted to show the world their engine (which is their MAIN product they're pitching) is very capable of making great-looking cutscènes. But it is totally separated from the game to begin with. And that would have been a good thing if there was any reason to have that story to begin with. Aside the striking similarity to Gears of War (that protagonist could be Marcus Phoenix's brother), I'm wondering just how much of warfare is shaped to be similar to call of duty or warfare. UT2004 had onslaught and assault. Onslaught had each team spawn in a base with control points (nodes) inbetween. The intention was to connect those points and use vehicles to push the team back in their base and attack them there. Assault had one team as the attackers and the other the defenders in a sort of obstacle course, where the winner of the game was the team that completed the objectives the first/fastest. They each worked fine by themselves. Warfare was said to attempt to combine those two and created something that was worse than each of those (in fact, warfare is a downright insult to both onslaught and assault players). But like those traditional modern shooters, you cannot say they're boring. Submissions are shouted in your ear pretty much the whole game through and it's usually other players who actually accomplishes them. The Community and the Future While the above may sound like a huge rant from one guy not liking a new entry, this isn't really the case. In none of those instances I wasn't the only one who noticed them. And they added up fast (especially the lack of decent multiplayer). Epic attempted to fix things with the titan pack (which added one or two forgettable mods for deathmatch and made the UI less obstrusive) and later with the 'black' edition (which included quite a number of bonus maps that brought some color to the oeuvre), but it was too little too late. There are some people still doing things in UT3 (the community bonus pack is worth checking out, and foxmod actually fixes the interface), but the size of the community never even got close to previous ones. Online servers are a wasteland and the single player campaign...yeah. Bot support is more than decent, though. I have to mention that for all its flaws, I recently picked it up on a steam sale (again). Kind of strange, seeing how I advise you not to buy it, right? Well...it's because I bought it in a pack together with all the previous versions. And while graphically inferior, they shine in the field of gameplay. And that's what games like these are about. If you've played UT or UT2004, you already know what I mean when I say these can entertain you for years. If you're new to the series, pick either of those over UT3. In a final statement: Epic is planning on making a new UT game (on their Unreal 4 Engine). It's going to be PC, Mac and Linux exclusive and will be available for free (no, not free to play. Free!). In addition, they want to build it in collaboration with the community. Yes, this all sounds way too good to be true, but thus far I haven't found the catch yet (no consoles and no more Cliff Bleszinski at least removes some major doubts). It's way too soon to tell anything more and I know y'all aren't exactly the audience for these kinds of games anyway, but hey...it won't hurt.