22 - Unreal

After tackling a long role playing game and a 3D platformer, I can’t describe how excited I am to move on to a first person shooter. Although I would consider my favorite genre to be tactical RPGs or larger scale strategy games, I have to say that I probably spent most of my prime game playing time with FPSs. Not only is it a genre I like, but this game is such an influential and historic piece that it is super exciting to get to. I can tell you that after playing it while testing screenshots and video capture, this should be sweet.

The next entry for the blog will be the 1998 classic Unreal. This is a sci-fi first person shooter that tells the story of a marooned prisoner who is forced to explore and attempt to escape an alien world. That’s just what I need: a bare bones story and solid game play. Let’s get into some background for me.

My History With This Game

I remember back in the days of high school. I still got super excited about any new games that were coming out, even though I didn’t have a job yet for money or a computer who would run them. I had a rich history of playing Wolfenstein 3D, Doom was a huge hit, Duke Nukem 3D was making the rounds, and Quake 2 had hit and not yet come to be seen as a major disappointment. In my English class in 1998, my buddy Mark came in, showed me a jewel case, and said, “Check this out.”

I couldn’t believe he had it. The previews from PC Gamer and other magazines I had been looking at seemed… well, Unreal. Huge landscapes with bright colors. The monsters were shooting lasers and modeled in full 3d unlike the sprites in Dark Forces or System Shock. I had not played Quake or Quake 2 because we did not have a Windows 95 machine when they came out, but now we did. I was so excited my stomach was in knots. For some reason, Mark let me borrow the game.

I installed it an was blown away by everything, and this was before I even had a Voodoo 2 3D accelerator card! We’re talking about software rendering with dithered shadows, popping textures and jagged edges. I have a feeling that any younger readers may not understand how huge this was back in the mid to late 90s. I was hooked and played and played and played.

Through the years I continued to play Unreal Tournaments up until 2004 (I think) and had nothing but fond memories for the franchise. Let’s see how it holds up.

My History with FPS in General

I’m going to take a minute here to toot my horn a little bit. Although I enjoy playing tactical RPGs the most, my most ‘successful’ runs of playing games have been in first person shooters. I played Wolfenstein 3D extensively when I was younger and purchased Doom as soon as it came out. I was not very good and used cheat codes a lot, but kids just want to have fun and not necessarily a challenge.

This changed drastically as I got older. After going to college, my friend showed me a free to play online FPS called Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. I had played the campaign for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but had not tried playing online. At this point it was all over. I was hooked. I would spend hours and hours fighting as either the Allies or the Nazis trying to destroy fuel dumps, steal secret documents, take radar parts, or load and fire a giant rail gun. This would lead me to my first experience with competitive online multiplayer communities.

I joined a clan called Deliverance. We were in the Team Warfare Leage (TWL) and the Cyberathlete Amature League (CAL) in the upper and lower echelons respectively. We were always one of those border teams that were really too good for the lower leagues and kept being bumped to the upper only to have the floor mopped for us. Despite this frustration, it was great to have a group of people to play with all the time and really push my skills further. It made me feel pretty good that I was constantly accused of cheating in public games, but still got whipped in private servers full of the best players. It's also fun to fondly look back at old frag movies of players such as Palehorse of Casualty (One of the best Panzers in the league), Seed from SuaveSports (He was only 13 or something!), and BlackLabel from Rotators (Undisputedly the best clan in both leagues) and remember playing or scrimmaging against them on a daily basis. Sad to think that it won't happen again with the constraints of work and life.

This experience showed me that online gaming wasn't just little kids calling you names and could really be something more tactical, social, and intense. I've always had a soft spot for shooters since and still like to think about it now and again.

[I remember all of these players!]

Why am I so Excited?

I always love revisiting old FPS games that I may not have experienced in the 'right' way. When I was a kid I would always get all the guns, run through the levels, and just mess around. This is fine, but as an adult, I would like to feel a little more accomplishment. After playing Doom 2 again and again several years ago for months at a time (love the mapping community), I fell in love with all the old games and got them on GOG. I actually did quite a bit of mapping in Doom Builder and had some cool levels, but never published any and lost them because of a hard drive crash. It's also rough because these were made in my OCD depression days, so even though some of them were impressive, they brought back bad memories of fighting the engine and program. Oh well.

I'm looking forward to popping back into the moon boots of a prisoner on a crashed ship. (Spoiler: I already tested it.) I have a much better eye for level design and balance and cannot wait to see what went into the game. Nuance, strategy, positioning, and movement are constantly overlooked when thinking about past FPSs and may be going that same direction with the current generation. We're going back to a time when you could carry more than two weapons, health did not regenerate, players could run 50mph in game, and not every game needed to be a political commentary.

Let's get Unreal.

--Backlog Killer