Category Archives: Developers & Publishers

Action games saw a lot of… er, action this month.

The only thing to hit the gaming community harder than the recent Seattle earthquake this month was the unveiling of nVidia’s latest evolution of the video card, the GeForce 3. As if this weren’t enough to get gamers around the globe salivating, the MacWorld 2001 expo in Tokyo featured id Software’s John Carmack, who took over the stage during Steve Job’s keynote speech and showed us exactly what we can expect from the new technology in the next id Software title.

The demo of the engine driving id’s “next game” (which will be a Doom title, although Carmack never used the word “Doom” during the demonstration) took full advantage of the new GeForce’s capabilities in rendering lighting and its effects. The MacWorld audience was treated to scenes so detailed as to appear cinematic rather than like in-game, realtime rendered shots. Carmack explained that with the help of the GeForce 3’s technology, he was able to streamline the engine’s lighting abilities so that the results were consistent when the lighting was calculated.

If you’re not sure how that’s different from any other engine, compare it to how the lighting is calculated in Quake III Arena. In the Q3 engine, moving lights over static surfaces are calculated differently than static lights over moving surfaces, and shadows are deliberately darkened areas rather than areas where there is an absence of light, which is what a shadow really is. While these effects all appear natural to some extent in the end result, Carmack himself has called it merely a hack to get things to look right. But no longer — Carmack has streamlined this process somewhat in the next engine, and from the looks of it, id is leagues ahead of the competition.

But while the Doom tech demo was the highlight of the action genre this month, significantly more useful to the hardcore game community were a few other developments — namely, Valve’s sneak peek of some new models for Team Fortress Classic and a few map packs to grace some recent titles. During a trip in early February to Seattle to hang with the Valve guys, the crew from PlanetFortress and I were able to beta test some new models for Team Fortress Classic that Valve plans to include in an upcoming patch.

“Not another patch!” I hear you cry. But hold off on the protests for now. Valve has been working on a patch to address a few cheating issues, and decided that throwing in some new content for the game would offset the need to download yet another patch. In fact, Valve told us that it looks at Team Fortress Classic as similar to MMORPGs, in which the developers are continually updating the game with new content. Valve wants gamers to feel that the product is constantly changing, and so the developers have been working on some new models to redecorate the game with. The models — which you can take a look at over at PlanetFortress — sport some nice new animations and skins that set them off much better, making it a little easier to tell them apart from the other classes. Expect the models to appear in Valve’s next update, which should come within the next few weeks.

While the folks at Valve are busy tweaking their models, id Software was quietly putting together a map pack for Team Arena, which was released a couple of weeks ago. What’s so special about this one? It contains maps done by the Q3A mapping community, guided by the hands of id’s level designers to make them fit into Team Arena. Epic has gotten kudos from the community for helping to put together and release bonus map packs for Unreal Tournament (the Innox Map Pack is a good example). Many have felt that id Software has lagged behind in this area, but even after the release of this first map pack the company is already at work on a second, which will likely also contain community-made maps.

The Team Arena map pack contains four maps, all of which were carefully selected by id level designers. One of the lucky mappers to see his work in the pack is Mike “g1zm0” Burbidge, well-known for his beautiful Japanese CTF and deathmatch maps for Q3A and also a member of Team 3, one of the oldest community development groups on the scene.

Big titles like Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena aren’t the only ones that have mapper communities providing new levels to play on. Monolith also released a second map pack earlier this month for No One Lives Forever, included in an update that addressed some other issues. Unlike id’s or Epic’s, this map pack wasn’t done by the community, but does contain eight new levels to play on — three deathmatch and five for assault.

While NOLF hasn’t seen the thriving map community that the bigger games have, its small family of community level designers is slowly growing; downloads of NOLF user-made maps can be found at both NOLFWorld and NOLFnews. Games like Half-Life, Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena, on the other hand, have hundreds of community mappers, some of them with a following of hardcore fans. ztn, for instance, got his start in the Quake 1 scene and has been most well-known for his Quake 1 map “Blood Run,” of which he eventually made a Q3A version. Neil Manke is practically a household name in the Half-Life community with his exceptional series, “They Hunger.”

Sometimes community maps can be many times more fun to play than the maps that came with the game. Sites such as ..::LvL or Nali City are excellent places to find these maps. The difficulty will be in finding servers that run them if you don’t plan to play them on a LAN with your friends. Such is the dilemma of the community mapper, and we hope that the trend for some companies to gather up the community’s best and give them the official blessing will continue on a regular basis.

So while you’re waiting that long, agonizing wait for id’s next Doom game, why not grab the new map packs and some other user-made maps while you’re at it? You’ll be recognizing the hard work that some of our community level designers put into their work, and you might even find something more fun to play on than what your $50 originally gave you.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT IS COMING TO A PC NEAR YOU!

That is, unless you move away before the release date. Hubris-tempting production company Gathering of Developers (GOD) and game developer Terminal Reality announced a few weeks ago that they will use the Nocturne engine to power two Blair Witch Project-based games. Since Nocturne featured gorgeous graphics, insane system requirements and little else in the way of inspiration, this could be good news. But how will it play? Looking into my crystal ball, I see well-rendered and painstakingly texture-mapped stones in small piles, 32-bit color sticks in strange bundles hanging from trees and poor voice acting. Real-time dynamic lighting will disorient the player at every turn, and the games will probably use the already confusing and disorienting Nocturne camera system.

FLASH! EIDOS TAKES OVER ION STORM!
Computer game developer/breast-augmenter extraordinaire, Eidos Interactive, the oft referred to “House that Lara Built”, has stood disapproving in the doorway long enough. Time to pull infrequent game designer John Romero’s pants down and give him a financial spanking. No more independence for you, our beloved industry rock stars, it seems. Time to actually make a game or two, maybe pay your debts and turn a profit while you are at it. Not only does this embarrassing turn of events put perspective on the equally devastating Dallas Observer article of some months ago, it is not a wholly unexpected move on Eidos’ part, given the way the wind has been blowing. And to think it all seemed to begin when Ion Storm printed an ill-considered print advertisement last year informing gamers that: “John Romero will make you his Bitch” –or something to that effect. Who is making whom their bitch now I wonder? I considered titling this story: “Ion Storm picks up the soap,” but taste prevailed. Here’s to the genuine and honest hope that Daikatanna is the best game ever made, otherwise the degradation may never stop.

Headline: PRIZE CENTRAL WANTS TO GIVE YOU PRIZES!
While it rips off intellectual properties. Internet Gaming Website Prize Central will be releasing three 80’s classic video game-inspired, Java-based titles in the coming weeks. Players who can post high scores at these three will earn tokens, which can be exchanged for prizes at their website. One game, called Prize Invaders, involves marching, relentless prizes descending from the sky. Another challenges players to stack prizes in geometric patterns. The third involves a character named Prize Man who has to elude enemies on several engaging map-based boards. Uh-huh. Seems it is legal to make a free mockery of a classic game (Prize Man?!?), but not to emulate the actual game itself. Still, these games are totally free, and what gamer wouldn’t enjoy playing a free game with the chance to win prizes? Hey, at least it beats shoving quarters into the real Pac Man simply for the fleeting glory of being able to put in one’s initials.

JUST IN! $100,000 beats winning tokens and prizes right?!
Who wouldn’t want to win $100,000 from a hot sauce manufacturer? I can’t think of anyone. It seems that Pac Man champion and likely very lonely guy Billy Mitchell (who is also president of this hot sauce manufacturer) doesn’t think so either. To win you must beat all 256 levels of Pac Man and then conquer the dreaded “split screen” level (which is a regular Pac Man screen on one side and a bizzaro collection of icons and fruit on the other), which Mitchell claims is impossible. The winner must document their achievement using Twin Galaxies magazine’s rules, which means you have to have their editor, Walter Day, on hand as witness (don’t worry, he travels well, but lock up your wife and daughters). Ricky’s Hot Sauce is also giving away money to people who can beat record high scores at a ton of other games. Mitchell claims he is doing this to renew interest in older games, but he is really doing it to sell hot sauce and to appease his alien overlord Gorf (all hail Gorf!).

And now…
The weekly Top Five List! Rankings and sales related data courtesy of PCData.

1. Roller Coaster Tycoon — Hasbro

Once again Microprose proves you don’t need violence to sell games, but vomit is still an essential component.

2. Age of Empires II: Age of Kings — Microsoft

All “king” puns aside, it is heartening to see that this many people are actually learning who Frederick Barbarossa was; it is disheartening meeting all these people at my castle gates and finding they brought plenty of onagers and trebuchets.

3. — Ankama Games

It is gun season, so why aren’t all these guys out in the woods wearing fluorescent orange? Maybe they keep picking it up while resupplying at Wal-Mart.

4. Delta Force 2 — Novalogic

No Chuck Norris, but plenty of crappy graphics round out this rehash of last year’s game.

5. Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 3 — Activision

Proof those people who bought Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2 had no idea what crap looks like (odd for people known for tramping in the woods looking for spoor). Listen to me. I don’t mind if you like hunting games. Come on, eyes front! Deer Hunter 3 is actually pretty good as a sim of the “sport”. Cabela’s Big Game Hunter is utter crap. Got it? C-R-A-P.

JUST IN! $100,000 beats winning tokens and prizes right?!
Who wouldn’t want to win $100,000 from a hot sauce manufacturer? I can’t think of anyone. It seems that Pac Man champion and likely very lonely guy Billy Mitchell (who is also president of this hot sauce manufacturer) doesn’t think so either. To win you must beat all 256 levels of Pac Man and then conquer the dreaded “split screen” level (which is a regular Pac Man screen on one side and a bizzaro collection of icons and fruit on the other), which Mitchell claims is impossible. The winner must document their achievement using Twin Galaxies magazine’s rules, which means you have to have their editor, Walter Day, on hand as witness (don’t worry, he travels well, but lock up your wife and daughters). Ricky’s Hot Sauce is also giving away money to people who can beat record high scores at a ton of other games. Mitchell claims he is doing this to renew interest in older games, but he is really doing it to sell hot sauce and to appease his alien overlord Gorf (all hail Gorf!).

And now…
The weekly Top Five List! Rankings and sales related data courtesy of PCData.

1. Roller Coaster Tycoon — Hasbro

Once again Microprose proves you don’t need violence to sell games, but vomit is still an essential component.

2. Age of Empires II: Age of Kings — Microsoft

All “king” puns aside, it is heartening to see that this many people are actually learning who Frederick Barbarossa was; it is disheartening meeting all these people at my castle gates and finding they brought plenty of onagers and trebuchets.

3. Deer Hunter III — GT Interactive

It is gun season, so why aren’t all these guys out in the woods wearing fluorescent orange? Maybe they keep picking it up while resupplying at Wal-Mart.

4. Delta Force 2 — Novalogic

No Chuck Norris, but plenty of crappy graphics round out this rehash of last year’s game.

5. Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 3 — Activision

Proof those people who bought Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2 had no idea what crap looks like (odd for people known for tramping in the woods looking for spoor). Listen to me. I don’t mind if you like hunting games. Come on, eyes front! Deer Hunter 3 is actually pretty good as a sim of the “sport”. Cabela’s Big Game Hunter is utter crap. Got it? C-R-A-P.

Kirby Triple Deluxe – Bring it to your Consoles

Kirby has always been one of the more experimental Nintendo franchises. It’s actually quite fitting considering his adaptive nature. He changes up his gameplay so much that platformers in same vein as his original games are actually less frequent anymore. But Nintendo seems to be making a conscious effort to bring Kirby back to his roots while still providing the fresh gameplay that he’s known for. And while Return to Dreamland captured some of that old magic, Kirby Triple Deluxe for the 3DS is bursting with it. Like all Kirby games, the story is simple enough. One night after a day of play, a mysterious beanstalk lifts Kirby’s house high into the sky. When he goes to investigate, he discovers that King Dedede’s castle was also taken by the beanstalk. Dedede is soon attacked and captured by a mysterious creature called Taranza. It’s Kirby’s mission to travel through six floating islands and rescue Dedede. The story does its job in giving Kirby a purpose to explore a new world and quickly disappears into the background once the gameplay begins. However, toward the end of the game, it is fleshed out a bit more and given some humorous twists and turns.

It’s nothing major, but it is fun to see the interactions between all of these characters. But it’s the gameplay where Triple Deluxe really shines. In many ways, it plays just like past Kirby platformers. He can run, jump, float, suck up enemies to steal their unique powers, and use those powers to take on other enemies and bosses. But where it becomes unique is in the way it handles the background and foreground. Kirby can switch between the two planes by using the new 3D Warpstars. Ones with an orange center will allow him to go back and forth while a yellow center means that there’s no coming back. While the concept has been seen before, most notably in Donkey Kong Country Returns, Triple Deluxe makes it almost integral to progression. The background is almost constantly interacting with the foreground and vice versa whether it’s from falling objects, enemy attacks, or even solving puzzles. This actually grants the game a strange sense of feeling three dimensional even though Kirby is stuck to a 2D plane at all times. Kirby has always been about simple platforming and that holds true here.

The game isn’t any more difficult than past games, and while those could become a little dull because of that, I never felt bored in Triple Deluxe. The level design is absolutely superb in the ways that it plays with the different planes and, in turn, giving Kirby something new to do. This could range from dodging a tank firing on him from the background to using a laser pole to destroy things in the background and clear a way forward. Bosses and mini-bosses also use this new depth to great effect. Almost every one of them uses the planes in some way so even old favorites feel different from before. Like Kirby Super Star and Return to Dreamland, each ability has multiple moves that can be used. Though it’s fun to use these moves on regular enemies, it’s the bosses where they become truly useful. The other new element to Triple Deluxe is the new Hypernova ability, which greatly improves Kirby’s suction powers to the point where almost anything is edible.

Its power is comparable to the super abilities in Return to Dreamland, but it is so much better than those. The super abilities looked impressive but nothing was ever done with them. Instead, it was always walk forward, hit the button, watch the animation, and repeat. With Hypernova, more thought is required. Puzzles will often be laid out ahead of you and while they’re nothing too difficult, they help break up the gameplay and make Hypernova feel special. And while regular enemies are quickly taken care of, larger ones are introduced that require a little more thought. It strikes an excellent balance between making the player feel powerful while still providing a challenge. The story mode in Triple Deluxe isn’t too long and will likely take most players around seven to ten hours to complete. But the game is far from over at that point. Right away Kirby Fighters and Dedede’s Drum Dash are available to play. Kirby Fighters is exactly what it says, a fighting game featuring ten of Kirby’s iconic powers. You can either go through a series of progressively harder rounds in a single player mode or challenge up to three of your friends in download-play multiplayer. The mode itself is a kind of cross between Smash Bros. and a typical fighting game. Each of the seven stages is directly pulled from past Kirby games while food and items appear to help players. The range of abilities is quite good though there were a few omitted that I would have liked to seen like Spear.

Overall, it’s a fun and chaotic mode that’s at its best when playing with friends though I’m not sure how long it will hold interest. The same could be said of Dedede’s Drum Dash, which is a music-based mini-game that has the titular king jumping across drums to the beat of four different songs. As he jumps across, he collects discs for points and is scored when completing the song. What’s somewhat odd is that matching what the song is doing is not completely necessary. A perfect run will complement the music, but a good score can be achieved even without doing this. There is a bit of a learning curve to it, but with only four songs available, it never held my interest after getting a gold ranking in each song. However, both Kirby Fighters and Drum Dash support Street Pass so players can compare their scores with their friends. These aren’t the only modes in the game as there are three others that can be unlocked. These games are where most players will likely spend their post-game since they can be very challenging. I won’t spoil them here, but I will say that even though I’ve been constantly playing Triple Deluxe for more than a week and a half, I still haven’t achieved 100%. But these unlockable modes are the most fun I had outside the main game. In addition to the extra modes, players can collect keychains that show off over 250 characters from throughout Kirby’s history.

Though they don’t unlock anything on their own, they can be quite addictive for completionists. Otherwise, the game simply looks great. It has a style similar to Return to Dreamland but softer and more expressive. A ton of Kirby’s personality comes through in this game, especially during the Hypernova sequences, and even Kirby’s enemies are fun to watch. The 3D is also impressive and truly enhances the gameplay. But the true star of this game’s presentation is the music. Kirby games have always had wonderful soundtracks, and this one’s no exception. It has a perfect balance of remixed classics as well as some truly awesome new tracks. This may be some of my favorite Kirby music ever. If you have headphones, I highly recommend using them. Kirby Triple Deluxe is an exceptional platformer that truly captures what makes the pink puffball so great. While it may lack challenge at first, the level design is so good and the gameplay is so fun that it never really mattered to me. When the challenge did arrive, I enjoyed it even more. To put it simply, I love it. Its story mode is charming, and its extra modes and collectibles provide plenty to do. Thanks for watching and be sure to stay tuned for more on cheats and other things gaming tool too.