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As you track down your foe, racing behind him towards a bobbing alien artifact, suddenly, as he beats you to the spot, a bright green light erupts and everything changes!  A wild looking mechanical spider sprouts from his body, and he turns towards you firing at twice the normal rate and able to absorb your return fire with impunity – you’re frightened – and you should be.

With Generation 3, we are amping up the “weird alien shit” factor quite a bit.  You probably should have expected that given the detail and twisted look of the new alien characters, or the Tim-Burtonesque look of levels like “Deathray” and all of the new, weird details we have added.  With the powerups, we are providing a new experience on an existing element – adding visible devices to players who are using them.  At the moment, it’s not completed, and there are plans for further enhancement of it to really up the “wow” factor when you see a player use a powerup.  Pictured above is “Alien Force”, pictured below is “Double Damage”.


Sproing and Haste will also receive “devices” when picking them up, that will similarly look pretty wild and crazy.  We plan on adding some animation sequences for when they activate, fire, and move.  There will also be a pretty dazzling light show as well.  We are at a point now with the content largely settled, and the engine rounding the bend, where it’s time to implement some more innovative ideas into the game, polish it to a level that can make it stand out from the rest.  I will keep you informed…

I’m going to post a lot of articles between now and Spring 2017, the expected release time of the game.  Mostly, I’m going to post about many of the levels in the game, and how they came to be, and how they are supposed to play, as well as what we changed this time around, and even over the years in cases of maps that have been around for a very long time in one form or another.

Some time back, I posted about the decline of the Arena FPS genre, wondering if it had a future, and if it could ever see a revival.  A lot has changed since then, some things have not(the more things change, the more they remain the same?).  The bottom line is that the genre does seem to be experiencing a revival of sorts.  All it took was a big title(Doom) to show that gamers were getting bored with the modern take on multiplayer FPS, and while the merits of Doom’s multiplayer are debatable, no one can argue that it didn’t expose a whole new generation to the possibilities of competitive combat in close quarters.



The ironic thing is, that the old-school gamers who pine for an old-school Arena FPS lamented the direction Doom multiplayer took – all the while missing the point of what id/Bethesda was trying to accomplish.  Doom, with it’s loadouts, limited weapon carrying, slower pace, is the conduit, the introduction if you will, the BAIT, to entice this new generation of gamers to where the REAL meat is gonna be – Quake Champions.  As evidenced by the footage released at QuakeCon 2016, QC is going to be pretty much exactly the game that the old-school guys wanted(and really, give id/Bethesda some props for even CARING about them given their paltry population), and it will be a huge success.  It’s what people wanted all along – something that plays fast AND looks good doing it – probably what Quake Live should have been from the start.

Quake Champions


But, Quake Champions isn’t the only entry in the fight.  Unreal Tounament 4 is progressing, and I recently tried it out again to be quite impressed with it’s progress.  The level design is worlds better than UT3, with tighter, smaller, faster playing levels.  It seems like that game is righting the wrongs of UT3, yet keeping the amazing looks and sounds.  Great job by Epic, and their community driven project.  I also purchased Toxikk and Reflex to try out and was very impressed with Toxikk overall.  It felt good, played great, and was very impressive visually.  Their art reminds me an awful lot of Xonotic, but executed much better – it really looks like what Xonotic should look like, and aspire to.  I was less impressed with Reflex, I didn’t like the movement(which felt swimmy) and the sounds were very weak.  As this game is “in development”, hopefully that will change, although it has clearly gained a foothold in the ESports world.  A new game, Diabotical looks really great from it’s trailer, though they stole “Frag like it’s 1999” from Toxikk!  Ratz Instagib is out, I have not tried it so I have no real comments.

Unreal Tournament 4










All of these look very promising, and with this many new AFPS games coming out, obviously there is a shift in the perception of what gamers want.  More often than not, “what gamers want” is controlled by this very perception that game moguls have.  There are of course silly debates about what constitutes an “Arena” FPS game, or what a “competitive” game truly is.  Purists will for the most part dismiss anything that doesn’t follow the strict rules of Quake deathmatch, and that doesn’t lend itself to dueling.  This narrow minded point of view is what has led to the demise of the genre in the first place.  Far too often cynical players such as this are their own worst enemy.  They want a new game to replace Quake and bring the genre into modern gaming, but then dismiss the new game when it’s not a carbon copy of Quake and includes modern nuances.  The silly arguing of semantics and definitions such as trying to demonstrate that UT was never an “arena” FPS, or wasn’t a “competitive” game is emblamatic of the problem.  Any game, in which players are competing against one another to achieve a specific goal is a competitive game.  Sorry die-hards, that’s a simple fact.  Dismissing a game as being too “casual” is exactly why your choices and ranks remain so narrow, and so miniscule.  An “Arena” FPS game is an FPS game in which players primarily compete in small “arenas”.  Period.  No, Counterstrike is not an “arena” FPS game – it’s maps are generally too large to fit the definition, even if a few maps, or custom maps fit the mold.  UT, Quake 3, Doom MP, etc, *are* arena FPS games.

Of course I am in the midst of completing COR’s own Arena FPS game, Alien Arena: Warriors Of Mars.  Along with Max Eliaser, Jim Bower, and a few others, we are steadily grinding away and getting things closer.  It’s interesting to me that Alien Arena and Toxikk are two games trying to achieve the same thing, but coming from opposite directions.  Toxikk is coming from the Unreal Tournament world and marrying elements of Quake to create a hybrid, fast paced game that feels fresh.  Alien Arena is coming from the Quake world, and infusing elements of Unreal Tournament to create something similar…but yet…different.


Alien Arena: Warriors Of Mars



Ironically, or maybe not, as time has gone on with this complete overhaul and reboot, I’ve found myself constantly re-examining the content, winding up doing things I’d previously said I would not do, or simply re-re-re-doing things because I didn’t like the quality, or felt they were too derivative of other games.  There are certainly some “ish” levels, or pieces of levels, but most of those items have been morphed over time to become their own things.  As I continue on with the content, Max continues working on the engine making things faster, smoother, and modern.  The game has transformed into something that I feel really nails the Arena FPS genre, something that will be faster, and more exciting than the AAA offerings can offer due to their own rules of appealing to the widest base possible.  Movement is among the fastest of any AFPS game, with a high skill threshold that seems in contradiction to other similar games.  Instead of dumbing it down, we’ve made it so that you can go further up the ladder, achieve more spectacular movement and feats.  We won’t back off from that…and when you execute a perfect dodge-jump combo, and fly through a map faster than everyone else, you’ll learn to appreciate your newfound skill.

WoM will push every boundary of speed, hyper fast gameplay, and attempt to wrap it up into something that is appealing to the eye.  It will not have the fidelity of UT4 or Quake Champions, we aren’t going to up our model polycounts to 50k and have 4096×4096 textures.  None of that matters in this genre – it only serves to use resources, up system requirements, and bog down the game.  It’s more important to paint a pleasing picture, than to paint one at ultra high resolution.  It will look terrific by 1080p standards, and it will play smooth and fast – which is what really matters.  The environments will feel rich, colorful, and atmospheric, the characters iconic, and the weapons will feel beefy and alive in your hands.  You’ll be satisfied when vaporizing your competitors, and you’ll be pleased by the visceral display of blood, guts and voltage.  The variety of arenas and their themes will keep you on your toes, and make things less repetitive(the biggest enemy of the genre has been when everything looks or feels the same).  UT was great at doing that, and we have followed that lead.  We are really excited to be working on this game, and cannot wait to get our entry of Arena FPS games into the spotlight.

Busy Bees…

I have obviously not been updating this blog very much over the past two years, but rest assured, I have been working so heavily on the Alien Arena reboot(Generation 3) that I’ve just had very little time to do so.  So, while I wait for yet another map to compile, I’m just taking some time to pass on some random thoughts(at some point I will make a more detailed update on the status of this game).

Generation 3 is in fact a complete and total reboot of Alien Arena.  This wasn’t always the intention, originally it was to be a character and weapon overhaul and some level updates, but it just became apparent that everything needed to be redone.  This is not just an artistic overhaul, it reaches throughout the code, game play, and pretty much every single aspect.  At the time of this writing, there are 15 completed levels, with about 8 or 9 more to come.  All powerups, weapons, HUD gfx, health, armor, etc, have been updated or redone from scratch.  The game has a very updated look AND feel to it, as we’ve done a number of things with animations and sounds to achieve this.  Most all levels now make use of our new terrain rendering tech, courtesy of the very brilliant Max Eliaser, who has devoted so much time to the game despite still pursuing his higher education goals.  Our team is small, but it’s a really good one, and very talented all around.  Netcode changes are in the works, and the final goal is to have an arena FPS that feels professional, modern, and well, fast.  Bringing old-school to the new-school –  that’s the modus operandi.  I am happy with the diversity of themes our levels provide…with many UT3 influences in art, and many Q3 influences in design.  Overall I think we have something pretty special, and am very excited about the eventual release.

Doom 2016, well, I have not yet played it due to my game rig being a bit dated now, but it’s on my list for sure.  Everything I’ve seen, read, watched, makes me think id really nailed this one.  The environments, monsters, gore, game play, all look so completely spot on and perfect.  It’s one hell of a reboot(pun intended).  The Spider Mastermind is so delicously beautiful and perfect, I’ll play it for that reason alone.  Seems the multiplayer did not cater to old-schoolers like myself, or the ESports crowd(who given their druthers would just play Q3 with brightskins and no textures), but I can see the potential for it to draw some casual gamers into the world of the arena FPS games that are more old-school and fast paced like UT4…and…Alien Arena.

On sadder notes…Vic and Crizis have left Warsow, and that game appears to be now dead.  They have hinted that they will be working on a new game that is partially based on Warsow, so that is something to keep an eye out on in the future.  I wish them both the best of luck and can’t wait to hear the details.

Xonotic seems to have some new blood infused into their community as of late.  Some are working on porting it to the Daemon engine, which I do understand given that Darkplaces is now defunct(at least as far as major work is concerned from Lord Havoc and others), but it’s a curious choice.  I don’t know why they haven’t considered CRX, as adding support for Q3bsp would be pretty trivial, since map compatibility seems very important to them.  Most of the problems they lament, CRX solves, and offers new possiblities for them.  I really would like to see them use the weapons that Morphed designed, as those are vastly superior to what they have now.

I haven’t been able to keep up with a lot of the other open sourced games like Open Arena, or the ones based off of Sauerbraten.  I know about Tesseract, and that’s a pretty slick engine that has a lot of nice possibilities.

Other arena FPS games…Unreal Tournament 4, I just saw a video of a new map that looked oh so very impressive, and their weapon models are starting to come to life too.  I’m super excited for this, and I guess it’ll prompt me to buy that new game rig so that I can play it and Doom.  I’ve been following Toxikk, and bought it to try out – great game.  Reflex still seems to be going well, and is popular in the ESports crowd which was their target all along.  Not a fan of changing to the mininalist art style though, and hope they reconsider that…please?

Well, my map is finished compiling.  Visit to have a look at what we are working on, and how things are progressing.  I’ll promise to have a more in-depth update in the near future that really goes into the nitty-gritty of what we are doing with Alien Arena, and what to expect.  Until then, frag on…


The year was 2000.  Y2K.  The Pentium III processor ushered in a new wave of high powered PC’s, and a new generation of graphic adapters provided the horsepower for 3d FPS games to run fast and smooth.  Two games, Quake III and Unreal Tournament were released that relied on the power of the modern PC.  Deathmatch was about to become king.

By 2003, the arena FPS was reaching a pinnacle of popularity.  UT2003, and it’s even better followup were both visually amazing, and even more fun to play than ever.  id Software had upped the ante with it’s idTech4 engine, and had also released it’s earlier engines as open sourced software for the masses to make their own engines and games.  Before long, a new generation of free, open sourced FPS games began to spawn, each with followings and communities of their own.  The mid 2000’s was a frenzy, with a plethora of choices for the arena FPS gamer to get his or her’s fix.  Projects such as Nexuiz, Alien Arena, Open Arena, and Warsow lead the charge of arena games based on the idTech engines, while Cube and Sauerbraten  rounded out the field with a custom engine.  Epic announced Unreal Tournament 2007(later renamed to UT3), and looked to cash in heavily on the strong popularity of the genre.  id Software later announced the free version of Quake 3 that would play in your browser, Quake Live.  The glory days of the arena FPS were at hand, and the future looked bright.

Then something went wrong…very wrong.  UT3 ultimately turned out to be a failure, as it was buggy, ran poorly on the average gaming rig, and didn’t play well over the internet.  Quake Live was initially successful, but focused too much on a small segment of gamers who played duel, and it’s popularity faded quickly.  The free arena FPS games also began faltering, partly due to Quake Live siphoning off their players(and cornering the majority of new ones), and lack of development interest.  Warsow, Alien Arena, Open Arena saw their player bases shrink steadily, Nexuiz wound up forking after a bitter dispute over the use of it’s name in a commercial game, and while other games cropped up, the general interest of these games had dipped to an all time low by 2012.  New gamers were no longer interested in the fast paced, deathmatch and duel modes of these games, and mostly gravitated towards simpler, team based, slower paced type games that required far less skill and far less attention span.  The ADHD generation simply lacked the patience to, well, for a lack of a better term, “get good” at anything.

There were attempts to revive the genre in recent years.  Shootmania.  Fail.  Commercial Nexuiz.  Fail.  The list goes on, but the pendulum has not swung back in the direction of the arena FPS.  Is it because the notion of that genre is completely unpalatable to the current generation of young gamers?  Or is it because these games have just flat out missed the mark?  Well, it may be a bit of both.  Shootmania was fairly fun, and simplistic as an instagib type game, but the levels were bare, bland and quite ugly.  Nexuiz was very visually appealing, and had quite a few fun weapons and excellent innovations, but ran *very* poorly even on decent gaming rigs.  Had these games had the right formula, the way that Quake III and the original UT games did, they might have had a significant impact in bringing interest back.

All of this brings us to the present.  Epic is currently working on UT4, in a very unique, and open way.  The game is being designed by the community, and the engine is now free for anyone to use, for anything.  Early videos haven’t really shown much, other than some skeleton levels that demonstrate the layouts of the maps, that seem tighter, smaller, and more dynamic than what we saw in UT3.  It’s unclear what the game will look like visually, as it’s still using UT3 artwork(and maybe it will, considering that the UT3 artwork was outstanding).  Bethesda(and id) seem to have little interest in developing Quake Live any further, and maybe that is a good thing, at least for the free arena FPS games.  Open Arena seems to be rebooting completely, but there has been little progress shown.  Xonotic shows a bit more promise, but is running on an engine that is no longer being actively worked on and updated with any significant improvements.  That project could use some improvements in their artwork(particularly the “tron” style of player skin that could be executed a lot better), and more modern looking level design(IMO).  Changing engines would probably be a good move for Xonotic to be taken more seriously.  Warsow was Greenlit for Steam, and is possibly the most polished of the current free arena FPS games, but progress is very slow.  It’s style may be more suited for the hard-core gamer than the newer generation, but this certainly has the potential to capitalize, if not help push the revival of the genre when it reaches Steam.  Let’s hope development continues on this project.  There are a host of indie arena FPS titles that have shown up as well.  Reflex seems to be the one that the old school, current arena FPS gamers are most hopeful about, and looks very good thus far, but it’s still too early to tell if it will have any curb appeal beyond that group.  Toxikk is visually stunning, and looks similar to the commercial Nexuiz game, the question will it run well, and play well?  So far it looks, IMO, to be the most promising of these games to lead the revival.  Another, Project Nex, appears dead, which is a shame.  There are other projects based on the Sauerbraten Engine as well, but I don’t have much insight on those, but they are still active and appear to be pushing for new releases.

I conveniently left Alien Arena out of the previous paragraph, as you know, this is the game I develop(with much assistance these days), and this article is basically a preface to lead up to a discussion of what is going on with it.  It has been over a year and half since we have updated this game publicly, which is by far the longest we have gone(we used to have several updates per year).  Some have taken this as a sign that the game has reached it’s end, and in some ways that *is* true.  Alien Arena has largely been two different games in it’s history.  The first generation(2004-2007), and the second(2008-2015).  The second generation is in fact, coming to an end, and the game will be rebooting for the second time in it’s long history.  The artwork is for the most part, completely new, and the engine has been thoroughly re-written, from the renderer, to the menu gui, to beyond.  The game itself has been streamlined, removing many of the less popular modes, received various bug fixes and tweaks to make it as smooth and balanced as it’s ever been.  There are going to be many completely new aspects of this game, such as true terrain, visual effects, and performance that is extremely optimized.  What may be the biggest change, is the actual style and look of the game.

In Generation 1, the game had a campy, silly theme, with a very Quake III inspired visual style.  We(I) made a lot of mistakes early on, levels too dark, too drab, or too large in scale(common mistake amongst noob designers!).  By the Gold and Uranium edition though, the level design was much improved on many levels.  Over time, my influences changed.  By 2007, the levels had started resembling the style that was in UT2k3/4, and by 2010, more of the UT3 style.  In the 2008 reboot to Generation 2, the game looked(and played) completely different than it had before.  The theme changed to a darker, more sinister look, particularly the player avatars, and quite a few people were not happy about that, though eventually they came on board with the changes.  Towards the end of Generation 2, the game was taking on it’s own unique style, with burned out post apocalyptic themes in level design, grittier texturing on characters and weapons, and more detail and realistic designs.  Eventually though, as the engine performance began to ramp up, it was painfully obvious that the game needed to take advantage of that, and start using artwork that was more modern in standard.  I also began realizing that the deviation in style for Generation 2, mainly the aliens, had been a bit of a design mistake.

The truth is, Generation 3 had begun quite some time ago, first with improving a number of the weapon models(beamgun, violator, disruptor), as well as the powerup and armor models.  My first idea for the player characters was just redoing the skin textures, but I began to rethink that, realizing the mistake of deviating the aliens so much from Generation I.  I wanted to recapture the stature, and campiness from Generation 1, but also make them look very modern, very detailed, and still have a touch of “evil” that was introduced in Generation 2.  In the end, I think I re-captured the spirit of the first generation, and modernized the look.  The face has similar aspects of the first, but with the detail and fear factor of the second.  The body shape is much more like Gen 1, but the arms and legs are now cybernetic, and very detailed.  The texture is modern and gritty, and full of glowing parts.  Overall, it look much more like the natural progression that *should* have happened back in 2008, making Gen 2 look like a fork of sorts.  Lastly, the polycount is more than double that of Generation 2’s models.  In my next article I will go far more in-depth in what Alien Arena’s third generation will be.  Think of this as a warm-up, or primer of things to come.

Can Alien Arena be one of the games to help revive the arena FPS?  I don’t know for sure, but I certainly am hopeful.  There are a number of great projects out there, and a lot of them have the potential.  These are going to be exciting times for fans, and if just one of these games can capture the imagination and interest of new gamers, it could go a long way in doing so.

Sometimes when it comes to engine coding, it pays off to revisit some things that you previously tried(unsuccessfully).  Other times it pays off to throw the old code away, and start from scratch.  It almost always pays off to listen to what your client base tells you.  While we have been constantly pushing the graphical features of the engine, for years trying to catchup to AAA gaming engines, the efficiency was something that was still lacking.  I would not say that we ignored it, there were very substantial gains made in past revisions.  I recall more than doubling rendering speed around version 7.45, and 7.53 provided another large boost as well.  After the release of 7.60, and the Reloaded Edition, it was time to really bear down and make this sucker hum.  There was basically a two-pronged approach taken to tackle the issue.  First, the bsp rendering needed some major optimization, and Max Eliaser, who is somewhat mildly obsessed with optimizing and clever codework, ripped apart our existing system, and came up with something that provided some very impressive results.  Once a significant bottleneck, bsp rendering increased by 3 or 4 times over!

Another major bottleneck was the rendering of player models.  This is a problem that is common to a number of games, and it was certainly a problem for the CRX engine as well.  When we implemented skeletal animation in 2010, one of my future goals, aside from ragdoll physics, was GPU animation(or sometimes, IMO erroneously referred to as GPU “skinning”).  As time wore on, a couple of other engines, notably Qfusion and Cube 2 had implemented it with great results.  Not to be left behind, I personally took on this one myself using Lee Salzman’s IQM demo code as a base.  It was actually remarkably simple to implement, aside from a few hiccups which were quickly solved.  The results were astounding, as meshes rendered 3 times faster than before, when say a dozen or so of the same mesh were on the screen together.  The more meshes, the greater the performance gap.  In doing this, I revamped our VBO subsystem, and it also forced me to revamp the shadow system to use shadowmapping for all shadow types.

Despite the intense concentration of performance enhancements(and there were more than mentioned above, such as particle system, shaders, and general math cleanups), there were still some things added to improve the visual appearance such as cubemapping on meshes, soft vegetation shadows, high definition lightmaps, water shader improvements, and more.  The optimizations also meant that people who couldn’t previously run the game on higher settings now could, and even faster than they used to on the lowest settings.  All in all, 7.65 was literally a tour de force of a renderer rewrite.  Any of the old, idtech2/3 style rendering is now long, long gone.  We still have a number of things we are looking to improve, but for now we are ready to unleash this onto the public.

In the fairly recent past, I’ve lamented the slow decline of the fast-paced arena shooter games.  We’ve certainly taken steps to shake things up, such as the new Minderaser weapon that was introduced in 7.60, but I’ve come to a plateau when it comes to the gameplay aspects of Alien Arena.  I don’t expect there to be any major changes in how it plays in the future(though that could always change, you never know), and I don’t expect it toaatacticle_m suddenly regain it’s past popularity barring a major promotional campaign(always possible) or a resurgence in the popularity of these types of games.  With that in mind, for the last year or so, I’ve been considering a completely new game type set in the Alien Arena universe, one that is part arena shooter, part tactical shooter, and perhaps part rts game.  I’ve dubbed it “Alien Arena Tactical”, and have spent quite some time developing it’s concept and code base goals.  I’ve recently started coding the basic portions of it, and expect to have a beta released spring/summer of 2013.  It’s a large undertaking, but it’s something that I envision as being very exciting, and fun to play, even by those who prefer fast-paced arena shooters.  The movement and pace are slower, much like a tactical shooter, and while killing is your business(and it’s good!), it’s not the primary goal.  The game pits Martians vs Humans, and each team has a variety of classes to choose from, each with different abilities, and some that need to combine with one another to achieve a goal.  For example, a Martian Enforcer can plant a bomb in the enemy’s base, but needs a Martian Warrior to place a detonator in it.  Each base consists of multiple components that work together, and when one is destroyed, the others are affected.  For example destroying a power generator will cause the ammo depot to resort to backup power, and produce ammo more slowly.  In short, the game should be an all out war, set mostly in post-apocalyptic settings similar to Extermination, Annihilation, and Impact.  The game will be a little faster than the typical tactical shooter, but slower than traditional deathmatch, and will absolutely require strategy and teamwork to win.  This game will also serve as COR’s initial pay-to-play release.  Now don’t fear, there will be a demo version of the game in which you can play on demo servers, but you will need to purchase an account to play on the premium servers and maps.

Recently, there have been rumors of COR Entertainment reviving and revamping the Alteria franchise.  The rumors are in fact, true!  The game will be rebuilt from scratch using the CRX Gaming Engine, and there actually has been some progress made.  This will likely also be a commercial release, with possibly a shareware/demo version available initially.  This is a very major project, and while it will onalteria4_mly be sporadically worked on/updated until Alien Arena Tactical is released, I do expect this to come to fruition in the next couple of years.  The goal is to keep the original game play elements intact with only minor modifications and some improvements, but to create all new game content, though some characters/levels will certainly be based on the originals in concept and design.  It will be quite a different game from Alien Arena, though I do intend to explore co-op type game play modes.  I am very excited to recreate some old worlds using our new engine tech, and I think I will surely enjoy making something that is truly demonic and horrifying in a fantasy style setting.  Think of Diablo meets Lord of the Rings…only bloodier!

Well, that’s it for now, I will continue updating this blog as time permits, and I’m sure I’ll be showing off a number of things from our two exciting new games, as well as the engine tech that we are constantly pushing out.  Until then, get ready for Alien Arena 7.65, because it’s coming very soon!

Over the years of working on Alien Arena, some releases really got me excited.  3.0 in 2004 with the inclusion of Capture the Flag.  4.01 in 2005 with the Linux port.  5.0 in 2005(Alien Arena 2006).  7.0 with a major content shift.  7.30 with it’s full per-pixel lighting effects and OpenAL sound.  7.45 with skeletal model format, and 7.50 with ragdoll physics.

In 2009, a map known as dm-deimos2k9 was released, which set a new standard for the quality of level design we were going for.  Subsequently, much of the content has been revamped to reflect that new standard.  With Alien Arena’s latest release(Reloaded Edition) not only have we supplied users with a dozen new or revamped maps, two new player characters, and a new weapon, but we may have set a new bar that we may aspire to in the future with dm-extermination.  This level was inspired partly after playing hours of Rage, probably the most beautiful game I have ever seen in my life.  The gory theme, heavy detail, and post apocalyptic atmosphere was very well suited for Alien Arena.  But…Extermination was more than just a visual demonstration of the CRX engine.  A large amount of attention was paid to laying out what I considered the ultimate style of Deathmatch gaming.  Multiple routes, vertical vantage points, dynamic game flow all factored in to making this map.  It’s one thing to create a beautiful environment, it’s quite another to make a good Deathmatch arena.  Extermination is my best attempt at both.  I think you will enjoy it!

The amazing thing about this release to me, is the shear volume of new content.  Thanks to Rigel and Freaky, two very dedicated Alien Arena followers, we added a number of CTF and TCA(Team Core Assault) levels based on DM levels I had created before.  Ctf-goregrinder and ctf-purgatory are amazing ports that continue to raise the bar of our CTF levels.  Ctf-extermination might be the best CTF level in the game, with it’s complex layout guaranteed to fool even the people who designed the levels at times.  A quad of classic Alien Arena maps received makeovers(Leviathan, Bloodfactory, Crucible, and Dynamo).  In the case of the first two, the changes were very dramatic.  We didn’t stop with adding arenas to frag in…we dished out some characters in which to do the fragging with.  The Martian Overlord was created, based on a concept from years ago.  It was basically meant to be the new “brainlet”, but it evolved to be a more full-sized character.  The Martian Warrior was a last minute inspiration in which a “heavy” version of the Martian was introduced.  Along with this new content, we also added a number of rendering features, many not found in other free games of this type.  God rays cast from sun objects, dripping normalmapped water from player POV, as well as on walls.  Trash blowing around on some levels.  Subsurface light scattering and rim lighting.  But…again…we didn’t stop there.

One of the things we hear lately is how stale arena style FPS games are.  It’s all the same game, with just a different wrapper.  Some of those statements are coming out of ignorance(usually by non-fans of the genre), but there is some truth to it.  Rocket launcher?  Check.  Chaingun?  Check.  Railgun?  Check.  You get the point.  With Alien Arena we have always tried to deviate from the Quake style of gameplay a bit.  Don’t get me wrong, Quake III in it’s pure form, and it’s day, was the greatest arena FPS game of all time.  Alien Arena originally strived to emulate that style of game and play, with a few twists.  We added the Smartgun.  A spammy grenade launcher type weapon that had projectiles that would electrocute you.  We also added the flamethrower, a weapon type which no other game of this type seems to have(but fits in very well with the theme of THIS game).  The beamgun and vaporizer were also very deviant and unique to Alien Arena.  Eventually Alien Arena also began adopting ideas from Unreal Tournament, such as alternate firing modes, dodging, and a reward system.  For the last several years, Alien Arena’s gameplay has been a cautious, calculated marriage between aspects of Quake 3 and UT.  But, no more…

In Reloaded Edition, we introduce a brand new weapon, one who’s very concept will rock the Deathmatch world.  The Minderaser…a superweapon that spawns every two minutes, replacing a standard weapon after it has been picked up from it’s pad.  When the weapon spawns, a klaxxon sounds, and the mad scramble to find it begins!  Like all Alien Arena weapons, it has two firing modes, both devastating and sinister in their own ways.  Mode one fires a slow moving projectile, called a “seeker”.  The seeker will scan the area slowly, lock onto a player, and make a beeline right to them, zapping them dead instantly.  Once done, it resumes scanning, until either a player shoots it from the air, or it crashes.  The secondary mode is even more frightening.  A metal spider is released, which then proceeds to track down other players and rack up points for the firer of it until it is destroyed.  Oh, and to cap it off, each weapon mode erases it’s victims reward points…hence…the Mind Eraser.

All in all, I personally feel that this release is going to inject some innovation and style into Alien Arena, and the arena FPS genre.  The excitement meter is on high…

The word is on the street is that the fast paced arena shooter genre is dead.  It’s difficult to argue with the pundits when you look at the empty Quake 4 and Unreal Tournament III servers, the sagging numbers for Quake Live and the myriad of free/open sourced shooters in the deathmatch realm, and the continued success of slower paced, military style games, and team based shooters.  These are dark and gloomy times for the twitcher ego shooter fans.  Much has been written about it, and many teeth have been gnashed as to why this has occurred, but one thing that cannot be denied is – instead of whining and arguing about which game is the best, or going to save the genre – the only real way to save it is to shut up and play.

The arena shooters will eventually come to life again.  The cycle is starting to move back in that direction as people have gotten increasingly bored with the slow paced military shooters and are looking to take the next step in their evolution as gamers.  The problem is, most people don’t know where to look, or which game to begin playing.  There are the obvious AAA choices out there, but finding a good match on them is often futile in a land of empty servers.  Many find their way to hybrid games such as Urban Terror, while others filter out into the various open sourced, free games such as Warsow, Xonotic, Sauerbratan and Alien Arena, to name a few of the more well known games.  However, far too many are sitting around(and gnashing those teeth), waiting for the “next big thing” to come along and rescucitate the rather lifeless(pardon the pun) deathmatch scene.  To compound it, most are looking to the AAA companies to deliver the goods.  They will be waiting quite awhile…

Where they should be looking, is the aforementioned free and open sourced deathmatch games.  These games are the result of years and years of refinement, and continue to be developed to this day.  Their polish and quality has certainly exceeded the games from the deathmatch heyday, and the innovations and improvisations of classic ideas makes them something larger, and more grand.  With Quake Live slowly dying off, there are a number of players turning to these games, and with the eventual exodus from the military shooters, it’s quite possible that they will flourish once again.  The problem is, this influx of players is still quite small, and with the plethora of choices out there, these games are left competing with each other for the same piece of the pie.  Many of these games are of great quality(and there is no law saying you have to only play one of them), but the truth is, they do compete against each other in the end.  In recent years there has been more collaberation between these communities and developers, which has led to a more rapid improvement in each of the respective games.  Each of them is trying their best to make their case as to why you should play their game, replete with videos, screenshots, and testimonials, all geared to lure prospective gamers into their folds.

As I said, I believe that it’s ridiculous to pigeon-hole yourself into just one game, but the reality is, that is exactly what most fans of the genre do, and unfortunately the communities of these games will continue to struggle against one another, behind the scenes and in the foreground.  It’s a shame, but it is for the most part normal human behavior, and quite inevitable.  As for those of us working on Alien Arena, we have been putting our noses to the grindstone, working on putting out another huge release.  Alien Arena: Reloaded Edition will be released towards the end of June, 2012.  The amount of new content is the largest since we changed themes back in 2008, and every aspect of the game has been advanced, from rendering, to gameplay, to weaponry, to player characters, you name it.  Did I mention the dozen new maps?

We are nothing, if not relentless in our approach.

In 2008, Alien Arena received a major facelift that forever changed the look, as well as the tone of the game.  Gone were the completely campy characters(many of which were poorly constructed for 2000’s standards), as well as the weapons and items – replaced by much higher quality meshes that took on a more modern, and serious tone.  Oh, there was still camp, and still a retro sci-fi theme, but it was a signifigant change.  There were other changes as well.  We were moving away from our Quake 3 inspired roots, and shifting towards Unreal Tournament’s style of gameplay.  This was a time of massive content updates, often 5, 6, 7 maps with each release.  By the end of 2008, most of the content from the Gold and Uranium edition content replacement era had been replaced.  In some cases, maps were on their third iterations.  The game was in constant evolution, and to this day, still is.

From 2009 to 2011, the major attention shifted focus from content and to the engine.  We had little choice.  The CRX engine in March of 2008 was little more than the Q2 engine with some shaders and a few other effects like textured particles, bloom, and lensflares.  There was that pretty reflective water, but it ran slower than mollasses.  With rival games like Nexuiz making major engine advances at that time, we had to try and catch up.  By summer of 2009, we had per pixel lighting on all surfaces, and by that fall we had improved the lighting and shadowing signifgantly, and revamped the audio.  Skeletal model format followed in the summer of 2010, and by the 2011 release, we had ragdoll physics and implemented AutoTools.  We didn’t stop there.  In 2011, the major focus was on increased peformance, which by the end of the year was dramatic in comparison to what it was at the beginning.  The tables had turned – now it was time for the game to catch back up to the engine.

Back in 2009, a map called Dm-Deimos2k9 was released, and it represented a new artistic standard for the game.  Since then, we have gradually updated older maps, some with complete rebuilds(especially the older post Gold/Uranium era maps), others with more cosmetic improvements.  We also added a number of new maps over the years, each ramping up not only the visual presentation, but also gameplay wise as well.  An emphasis on flow and dynamic combat produced maps such as Deathray, Annihilation, Downfall, and Goregrinder.  We also started looking to add maps that fit the theme even better.  Deathray was a weird Martian station.  Invasion, Annihilation, and Impact were post-apocalyptic urban settings.  Neptune an ancient Martian structure under the sea.

Now in 2012, we have added a ridiculous amount of improvements, as well as new content.  We have seven new levels, a new weapon, a new player character, a boatload of new visual effects, and a signifigant improvement to our anti-lag code.  The list of changes and additions is likely to dwarf any release we have ever had, including the monumental 7.0 and 7.30 releases.  I’ll end this portion with our updated trailer…

Nexuiz/Xonotic – the saga continues.

Over the last couple of days, I had the chance to try out the PC version of Nexuiz by Illfonic.  Ever since the release of that game, I’ve followed the reaction by the Xonotic crew.  Most of them predictably pan it(and some even seem to harbor an unnatural hatred for it).  I decided to give the game a whirl myself, and while it’s in beta, I can at least comment on my experience and thoughts on it.

The first thing I noticed was that after starting the game, it had a nice, clean menu system.  Kudos to them for that, in an era where overdoing the menus seems trendy, this is what a game menu should be.  What it shouldn’t be though, is not allowing me to change my movement keys.  I don’t use the standard WASD config, and there was no way for me to change it.  Boo.  The second thing was, that I couldn’t just join a server.  I had to select a map, and it searched for matches using that map(without regard for game type) for me to join, placing me in some sort of lobby, where I couldn’t really talk or do anything but wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Once in a while it would say a “short” which I assume is Illfonic slang for “match” was starting in 25 seconds, but then somebody would leave the lobby, and it would revert back to “waiting for players” and start all over again.  It took me hours before I ever was actually able to play in a game.  I wound up in a CTF match…

But here is where the experience changed for the better.  First off, let me say this – the game has nothing in common with the original Nexuiz other than the name, and the names of a few weapons.  Otherwise, they could have called it “Battle Bots” or some other cheesey name, it wouldn’t matter.  It’s not Nexuiz as we know it.  Second off, I had to scoff at people(mostly Xonotoids) who claim that Xonotic actually looks better than this.  Are you kidding me?  The “new” Nexuiz blows Xonotic out of the water on a visual basis.  Look, I love the Darkplaces engine as much as anyone, but Crytek it is not.  Gameplay was actually quite fun, and I played a few rounds of CTF as best I could with controls I wasn’t used to.  Speaking of the Crytek engine, yes, the performance was not great.  Even on medium settings, the frame rates were pretty bad on my rig, which had little trouble with Rage.

Overall, not too bad for a beta.  Hopefully they iron out some things between now and release in a few weeks, and make it a little easier to join a match of your choice.

It’s hard to believe that Alien Arena has been in development for eight years now.  The initial work began way back in December of 2003, as an offshoot of the CodeRED series of games that COR had released in 2002 and 2003.  CodeRED actually began life even further back, in 1996, as a little Quake I mod that was roughly an idea based on something I had seen in MDK.  By 1997, CodeRED had a final level with little “grey” aliens in it.  We switched to the Quake 2 engine in 1997, and by 1998 the game changed completely, into a more traditional single player mod.  Development stagnated however, when we shifted gears to develop Alteria, a single player RPG/FPS game based on the newly released id source code.  When id released the Quake 2 sources, CodeRED development picked up again, and “Battle For Earth” was released in 2002, with “The Martian Chronicles” following it in 2003.

The concept for Alien Arena followed my ever growing interest in deathmatch gaming.  While I had been playing for some years, I felt myself gravitating towards online play, and wanted to make a free deathmatch game.  At this time, the only other game of that type was Cube.  The original idea was to have characters based on a number of famous movie aliens/robots.  I contacted the various parties who held copyrights, but was unable to secure permission, thus, the decision to base the game on the CodeRED universe was made.  By the time the first version of Alien Arena was released in 2004, none of the CodeRED artwork remained – it had been all newly created just for Alien Arena, and by the summer of 2005, “CodeRED” was dropped from the name altogether.

Alien Arena has come a long way since those days.  The game’s artwork has been completely revamped, and the engine has received a constant amount of updates and modernization that make it barely recognizable to the original.  From the meager days in 2003 of working on it alone, a number of people have joined to work on the game over the years, some came and went, some still remain.  The rate of development has always been very high, and there appears to be no end in sight.  We all love working on it, and have many things still on the plate for the future.

Alien Arena is powered by the CRX engine, which was initially based on the source code from Quake 2, and Quake 3.  Most all of the renderer has been rewritten, so when people say to me “that’s amazing for being idtech2”, I have to kind of correct them, because the renderer really isn’t idtech2 at all.  One of the more impressive things that we are very proud of, is not only have we been making the game render more beautifully, we’ve made it much faster.  For example, in version 7.50, we had been very excited that the game was rendering considerable faster than before.  Framerates were at least 40% faster than they had been only a year or so before.  In 7.51, we made a signifigant jump, and in 7.53 yet another.  A test that ran at 90fps in 7.50, now runs at 160 fps in 7.53!  Now that is progress!

One of the things that the CRX engine improved on over the years is the lighting.  We started working on this in the summer of 2008, by 2009 we had full per-pixel lighting in the game, and by 2010, we had idtech4 style stencil volume shadows.  Since then, we’ve really gone to town on it, adding soft shadows, shadowmapping, vegetation shadows, fading penumbras, etc.

CRX renders several different ways.  On the lower settings, we use the traditional, multipass shader technique, very similar to what was used in idtech3 (Quake 3).  While this is ok for simple rendering, these methods will not do for higher end, modern rendering style.  So when higher settings, such as normal/parallax/specular mapping are applied, the engine switches to a single pass, GLSL system.  Our shadows are rendered in a fairly unique way as well.  We render dynamic shadows using shadowmapping, which get passed to the shader.  This allows us to easily subtract these values from the dynamic light, creating a realistic fading penumbra.  We also use shadowmapping to create a shadow cast by the sun, a single light source.  A number of engines use this technique, but, this technique doesn’t do well for scenes with multiple light sources.  For that, we use the method that John Carmack recently implemented in the newly released idtech4 source(note – we already knew of this method, it had been discussed in various online papers and tutorials).  However, we take it a step further, by softening those shadows using a technique that involves capturing the stencil buffer, sending it to a shader to blur it, and rendering it on an overlay of the scene.

Aside from the lighting aspects, we’ve strived to add other little gems to our engine over the years.  First we added light bloom effects, then lensflares, and eventually light volumes.  We added vegetation shaders, reflective surfaces, and many other items that we’d see in engines like UT3 that we wanted.  Post process effects like heat/explosion distortions, and radial blurred pain effects come to mind.  In the summer of 2010 we added a new skeletal model format as well as ragdoll physics following that.  Recently we’ve been developing ways to make everything render faster using VBO(Vertex Buffer Objects).  For example, rather than create vertex arrays each frame for visibile surfaces, we load the entire map, and all static objects into VBO, and access them from the GPU’s memory.  The result is an engine that now renders very fast, which is important for the type of game we develop.  We replaced the entire sound system with OpenAL, and implemented AutoTools for a much easier experience in compiling the game on Linux and MacOS platforms.

Aside from the engine, the game itself has evolved considerably over the years.  In the early days, the game was for the most part a clone of Quake II’s deathmatch, with a bit of Quake III thrown in.  By 2006 however, the game began to adopt ideas from Unreal Tournament, such as alternate firing modes, mutators, and game modes like Deathball, Team Core Assault, and vehicles.  Eventually movement was changed to include dodging, and we added a reward system.  The bot AI was made better too.  We added advanced combat techniques such as rocket jumping, strafing, bunnyhopping, and retreating.  The navigation has been dramatically improved in our upcoming release too.  In 2009 we added antilag, and in 2011 we added an account system for our global stats accumulator.  Weapon balance has been tweaked, re-tweaked, and tweaked again countless times to create as good a gameplay experience as possible, not just for the experts, but for newcomers as well.

Now that I’ve told you how we got to 7.53, I’d like to discuss the future of the game.  There are still a number of items that we intend to work on in the future.  We intend to further develop the GUI to be a more modern and smooth system, including the menu, as well as scoreboard layouts.  I personally am looking at some other rendering features, as well as replacing some of what we have with faster, more efficient methods.  The bot AI is currently getting a heavy dose of love, with some Capture the Flag specific code being added that should make our bots among the best at CTF of any free game.  One of the other major features being added very soon is the Lua scripting language so that people can make very easy modifications to the game code as well as the client effects.  One thing that we always do, is update the content.  In 2009, we began making levels that had a specific design style, and revamping older levels to adopt this style.  You saw levels like Dm-saucer, Dm-Violator, Dm-Babel, and others that got extensive updates into this style.  There are still a number of maps that use the older style and need to be updated, and they will.  For the most part, the maps that are in the game are going to stay, but get updated.  There may be a few that get retired, and a few new ones added, but we really like our lineup a lot.  There also is a strong possibility of a new player character being added, one who’s concept was created a couple of years ago but never finished.  Aside from the game itself, we also are continuing to develop the community around it, such as running our own IRC servers, and fostering 3rd party content development.

In short, Alien Arena is forging on, keeping the torch burning for old school deathmatchers everywhere, and fans of hokey sci-fi who just love blowing shit up.

More random thoughts…

Quake Expo ended not long ago, and it left me pondering quite a few things.  One thing for certain is, that the Quake community, while still alive to a degree, is certainly far less active than it was just even a few years ago.  Part of this is natural evolution of a 15 year old game’s lifecycle(and it’s remarkable that it has lasted this long), part of it is people moving onto other things, and part of it is a little less savory.  IGN has pretty much stripped it’s “Planet” sites down to bare bones.  Planetquake nearly found itself in archive status, and only by the good graces of PappyR and HappyFriar is it still alive at all now.  Once a mighty hosting site, and central location for all that was Quake, it’s all but dead.  Now the community is quite fragmented with no real central location for modders to gather.  Inside3D could be a place like this, but that site is primarily focused on Q1 and Darkplaces mods.  QuakeDev is going away, and other places focus on just one version of Quake or another.  Despite this, Qexpo was pretty successful, with maybe a near record number of booths, but to be honest, the amount of activity and production of actual content was a bit disappointing.  More disturbing were certain people/communities that were well aware of it really didn’t participate.  No Open Arena or Warsow booths.  Xonotic put up a booth but did nothing with it.  However, Tastyspleen did a great job though of talking about Qexpo and the projects with the radio broadcasts, which was a very refreshing and positive development, and given that they are a Q2 oriented group, give hope that maybe there can be further unification in the future.  On the flip side again, that certain prominent projects didn’t bother with a booth(and one flat out said “I’m not participating”), also shows that there could be a growing rift, or attitude of not caring about the original Quake community and just doing their own thing.

Another sad trend I see, is the continual gravitation of new gamers(and even some old) towards slow moving, realistic military shooters in liu of the traditional, fast-paced arcade style deathmatch games of the past.  I still maintain that this is a fad, and that eventually people will once again grow to appreciate the speed of the old-school games.  It really is a natural evolution of skill.  Military shooters are slow, and far easier to learn than the likes of Quake and Unreal Tournament.  Another problem is boredom.  Long standing players just eventually get bored and move on to other things.  Why do you think “race” modes got so popular for awhile?  People had grown tired of the same old run and gun, and wanted another way to challenge themselves.  New players don’t want to take the time to develop the skill necessary to compete in the faster games, and well, many kids just love playing “army man”.  Hell I did as a kid, and now with these virtual worlds where you can shoot bullets and blow things up safely in, it’s no wonder so many people choose this type of game.  But, boredom can affect these games too.  Players want to eventually challenge themselves, and that is where the old-school, past paced shooters come back into the equation.

Speaking of “fast paced” shooters…fast movement is not equal to fast paced.  In fact, some games that claim to be super fast paced because of their movement are IMO, not really that fast paced because their weapons are too weak, or the speed of movement is too fast that it allows too many players to escape combat situations.  Some even say they “prefer” long drawn out battles with weaker weapons, which is really saying “I want it to be slower paced”.  Achieving good, fast pace is a combination of movement, weapon power and weapon balance.  It’s not easy….and it’s easy to have misconceptions about what “pace” really is.

A new version of Alien Arena is around the corner…and it’s now been five months since our last release.  Some extenuating circumstances have prevented us from including everything we wanted to, but there is actually a good amount of new things that will be included.  One item we worked on was adding shadowmapping of our foliage shaders, which now allow for very realistic outdoor lighting and environments.  To display this technology, I created a new map(dm-impact) to show it off(and it’s a pretty good, fun map to boot!).  We also decoupled the renderer from the client, so now having high framerates won’t flood your connection to the server, and smoothed out stair climbing physics.  There were a variety of bot improvements, a new mutator, better LOD detection, and quite a few bug fixes and little optimization tweaks.  On the content front, we replaced all of the old powerup models with shiny new ones, and hope to have four new maps completed.  Another new feature that is in the works for this release is an actual account system, so that stats are now secure and tied in with a player, preventing situations of stat – spoofing and other hijinx.  Looking through the SVN changelog today, the list of updates is a bit more extensive than I had original thought.

All in all I’m pretty pleased with how the game has been developing over the last two years.  After the big content replacement in 2008, we were able to spend a lot more time on the engine.  It’s evolved in fits and spurts, almost haphazardly in some ways, in that we kind of bounced around from one aspect to another, but with such a small team, that is to be expected.  At times it was all about adding new rendering tech, other times it was about making speed optimizations, other times just about cleaning things up.  It’s gotten to the point now where everything has kind of come together and the engine is quite solid and stable.  I’m sure we’ll find new things to tinker with and advance, but it’s nice to be able to focus a little on content and gameplay now.