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Dreamhack Winter 2017

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If you don’t know, then you DON’T KNOW.  You may have heard the stories, you may have seen some pictures, you may know that DreamHack has been around for quite some time and has been growing at an exponential rate over the years, but unless you’ve actually BEEN there, you really have no idea just how amazing and spectactular it really is.  Billed as the world’s largest LAN party andh8d digital festival(and recognized by Guiness for being such), over 25,000 gamers unite to compete, socialize, get lots of free stuff, try out new games, get LOTS of free stuff, and generally have a great time with a bunch of like-minded gaming fanatics.  COR Entertainment and Alien Arena have had a presence at DH six times in total(including this year), partnered with other companies that liked our game and wanted us to be a part of their booths(including Intel in 2013).  This year, we decided to have a go of it on our own, purchasing a booth and equipment(or renting some), and putting up our own money.  It was an experience of learning, nervousness, and ultimately validation that we really have something here with our game.

The adventure began with my partner in crime, Mina, and I landing in Copenhagen, and Vic(Bonfire) driving us to his house on a chilly night in Scandinavia, a place I had never been.  dh2Meeting Vic for the first time in 10 years of knowing him online was a truly remarkable and memorable experience.  It seems crazy now that we had gone that long without meeting in person!  Arriving his his quaint and beautiful village in Sweden, we had some pizza and a couple of drinks to dh4celebrate, and then got a few hours of sleep before waking up early to make the trek to Jonkoping on a snowy morning.  Arriving there at the Elmia sports complex, we began setting up our modest, but clean booth.  Though we were not fully aware at the time, we would later learn that we were literally, the ONLY indie game developer present!  That seemed a bit intimidating when looking at the extravagent AAA company’s booths, but we had to have faith in what we were doing.  With just three of us doing the work, it took much of the day to get everything set up and organized, working correctly and fully tested.

By day’s end, exhaustion and hunger had set in, and after a quick meal, we turned in for the night to prepare for Opening Day.

DAY ONE. 

It began with a steady stream of gamers pouring into the complex, lugging in computers, sleeping bags, chairs, whatever they needed to spend three days of non-stop gaming action.  We fired up our network and server, got our booth displays in order, and waiting dh14for the players to come check us out.  I must admit, there was a lot of nervousness on my part, would we even have enough people interested to organize tournaments and give away some of the prizes we had purchased?  Well, we had our answer within a few minutes!  Curious eyes started fixating on the dh15colorful game with blurringly fast movement and crazy alien weaponry, and began to sit down and play.  As the morning wore on, what began as uneven waves became a steady stream, and all six of our stations were occupied for much of the time.  By noon, we began running our qualifying tournament rounds, despite a little bit of not really knowing how we wanted to do things.  However, we got it situated, and dhday25it was under way!  The first thing I noticed was that some of these players were really good, and talking to them, quite a few were old-school Quake players, and really excited about the game and how it played for them.  Some of them had nice “wishlist” items, others with great questions, but most just seemed to really be having a great time.  As the day wore on, we got to take a few breaks and explore some other areas, booths, and just look around.  The aura and atmosphere was undeniably amazing.  It also gave us a chance to see what some of the AAA companies dh9were doing, and giving us ideas for the next time.  All in all, considering our budget, we didn’t do badly without our setup, and we certainly had piqued the interest of a number of gamers, especially those who were into games like Counterstrike and Overwatch, and of course, All Things Quake.  We gave out plenty of freebies, such as stickers, keychains, flyers, and cards, as well as Steam Keys for runners-up, or people that just seemed ever-so deserving of getting one.  Approaching 7pm, the lights dimmed, the atmosphere got more intense, and it was fast approaching the hour of our Day One Finals, at match that would feature some truly great players, to compete for a 100 USD valued gaming headset and Alien Arena T-Shirts.

The finals were as expected, quite intense.  I had already picked out who I considered the favorite – an old school Quake player by the name of Phillip Winqvist.  Phillip used a dhday1finals2somewhat unorthodox style(quite like myself actually), but had great movement, aim, and item timing(he had also practiced during the day a bit to learn the timing, I presume).  He had defeated his friend Johan in the qualifying round, but it was clear he was learning the maps, and game very quickly.  He had a slow start in the finals, dhday1finals4largely due to admitted nervousness(my troublemaking wife had fictiously told him I put 1000 dollars on him winning!), but by the 5 minute mark, Phillip began asserting control of the map.  We had chosen DM-Bloodfactory, a map with only a few hazards and ample weapons/powerups to facilitate with the players all being only familiar with the game for a few hours at best.  Once again, Phillip began pulling away and wound up defeating Johan(who was invited to the Finals due to us only getting five qualifying rounds completed because of a late start, and him being the best runner-up).  This time it was a little more convincing, and Phillip established himself as the player-to-beat for the DreamHack tourneys.

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DAY TWO.

As fun, and successful as day one had been, there was no comparison to day two!  The steady stream of players at our booth was replaced by a crush of people at Elmia, and dhday2p2people standing in line waiting to play.  Some familar faces from day one stopped by quite often, as well as entering the qualifying rounds.  Several of these familiar faces were people who had played Alien Arena tournaments in years past at DreamHack, and wanted dhday2p6another shot.  The ability level of the players in the qualifying rounds had ramped up considerably, as word spread of the Quake-Like game, and some true masters were turning up to show off their fast-paced skills.  Others remarked how insanely fast everything was in comparison the games there were used to(Counterstrike, Overwatch, etc).  It was clear that CS and OW were the dominant FPS games at DreamHack, as walking by the LAN rows you could see thousands upon thousands playing them on their gaming rigs.  Sadly, I did not see a single instance of Quake Champions, Quake Live, Unreal Tournament, or any of the established Arena FPS games running on anyone’s rigs.  There was of course a Quake Champions Tournament on the main stage, but I was only dh10able to watch the stream of it as I was a little pre-occuppied with our own agenda.  The flood of players to our booth continued througout the day, intensifying leading up to the 7pm finals.  Vic and myself took a few moments to compete against some of the finalists during the time between rounds, and I must say, we came away highly impressed.  Phillip Winqvist once again won a qualifying round, but it was clear that if he was to repeat asdhday21 champion, it was not going to be easy.  The qualifying round winners on day two were several notches higher than day one.  There were a number of runner ups that were well deserving of the finals, but alas, only six slots available.  Next DreamHack we will be more prepared, so this was a great learning experience for us as well.  Our little “Mom And Pop” setup may have been endearing, but it was difficult to keep organized, and next time will promise to be different.  After a wild day of fragging, the Witching Hour had arrived, and it was time for the highlight of DreamHack 2017 Winter for us – the Day Two Finals.

The lights were dim, the energy was high!  The three of us(Vic, Mina, and myself) were simply ecstatic at the turnout we had all day long, and really excited for the finals.  We dhday2finals1had once again chosen some alternates during the preliminary rounds because sometimes schedules conflict and you may get someone who cannot make it.  One such alternate Benjamin Salhsten, who had fallen narrowly to his friend Linus Anderrson, was the lucky man to fill a dhday2finals2vacant slot due to a no-show.  During the warm-ups, it was clear that this was going to be a very competitive match between six really great players.  Many of them showed up as much as an hour prior to begin practicing.  This time, instead of me chosing the map, I left it up to one of the alternates to make the choice.  He wasn’t able to remember all of the map names, but we played a little game of “narrow it down” to make the choice.  When the final choice was “few hazards, or lots of hazards”, dhday2finals3he had a wicked grin on his face and said “LOTS of hazards!”.  Thus, we chose DM-Babel, one of the tightest, fastest, and most hazardous maps in all of Alien Arena.  Watching how some of the prelimary rounds went, we knew that this was going to be a great test of just how good these guys really were!  The match began evenly, with five of the six players staying tightly bunched, and the six not really far behind at all.  Soon however, Phillip Vinquist again began establishing himself as the leader, as it was clear his practice dhday2finals4.jpgand learning the weapons and maps was really paying off.  He wasn’t just winning, he was dominating!  The real race was to see who the runner-ups would be, and since tonight was the “main event”, the prize pool was larger.  Behind Phillip, four players were within a frag or two of each other, trading positions routinely, and in the end, Linus and Benjamin were able to finish second and third, narrowly ahead of the remaining three. Each got a nice prize(note, Benjamin actually received an Asus gaming keyboard due to us having run out of t-shirts in his size.

Following the match, we all stood around chatting, talking about gaming, Quake, Alien Arena, and enjoying the moment.  Some of us got on the clients and started playing, and of course the stream of players kept on coming until it was time to wrap up for the night.  What a crazy, fun experience Day Two had been!

DAY THREE.

After a night of eating some really, really spicy Thai food, some beer, some shots, and some general celebration and fun, Vic, Mina and I called it a night and prepared for the dhday33third day of our DreamHack 2017 Winter adventure.  We weren’t expecting to top the insanity of day two, but we also had a lot to look forward to, including being invited to the Twitch TV After Party.  Day three at DreamHack began with watching the mass exodus of gamers, wheeling out their rigs, chairs, sleeping bags, all blearly eyed and tired.  The dhday32.jpgearly part of the day was in fact kind of sad to watch, as the party was coming to an end, but hey, at least now we didn’t have to wait in line to use the bathrooms!  Once a good number of players got their gear out, it seemed like a new type of consumer was coming in – wives and dads with their kids.  The activity came in waves, with ups and downs as to be expected, but by afternoon was becoming a bit more crowded again.  Due to the majority of players being younger and inexperienced, we decided to forgo the previous format and just spend the day chatting and playing with some of the players.  We did hold one round to give away our remaining headset, and next time we will probably follow a different format, as well as include a duel cup to stretch over the duration of DreamHack.  By the end of the day, with the majority of players gone, we broke down our booth, packed up, and got ready for the Twitch TV after party.

AFTER PARTY.

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Despite being on the brink of total exhaustion, Vic and I went to the Twitch TV after party, after being invited for the first time, while Mina slept off the event’s toll on her tw0body and mind.  The weather that night, with a full moon and clear sky, was by far the coldest it had been.  We arrived around 10pm, just as many others were starting to show up.  There was a large hall with a central bar, tons of games like ice-hockey, ping(and beer) pong, among others set up, with tw2an outdoor section replete with fires, booze, and roasting marshmallows.  It was quite extravagant!  A dance floor with a DJ was pumping the jams, and after a bit of booze flowed a few started getting on the dance floor(notably after one young woman got things rolling shaking what she got).  Before long the party was rolling along in high gear, and Vic and I were feeling no pain tw3ourselves, despite spending some of that time standing outside in the frigid air looking across the lake at the beautiful Jonkoping skyline in the background.  We met some new contacts, drank a little more, and eventually jumped back in a cab to call it a night.

It was a wild and wonderful way to finish what had been just a completely amazing experience!  Having never been part of our DH presence before, I really did have no idea what to expect, and to say I was blown away would be an understatement.  The World’s Largest LAN party lived up to tw9it’s billing, and the new friends, new players, new contacts, and new ideas that came forth were well worth the investment.  We have a better idea of what we need to do going forward, not just with our booth and running tournaments, but with the game as well.  There really is no substitute for this type of hands-on, face-to-face interaction with people and gaming…none.  When things artw5.jpge real, you get real experience, real insight, and real reactions.  We will return to DreamHack, bigger, better, and even more fun than ever!  We cannot thank the event’s organizers enough for being so accomodating and helpful to us, such as Patrick Samson, who made us, the only Indie developer, feel so wanted and welcomed.  I cannot think of anything I would want them to do differently, to me it was perfect, extremely well run and organized, and most of all, just a ton of fun.  It’s an experience I will never forget!

 

 

 

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By now if you’re an Alien Arena player on Steam, you’ve probably noticed a fairly significant amount of updates over the past few weeks.  You’ve probably also noticed a lack of players, unfortunately.  Our launch wound up being rather disorganized, mostly due to circumstances out of our control.  Promotional campaigns got delayed, there was some learning curve dealing with Steam, and we had quite a few oversights regarding the game itself that needed addressing.  So, things got pushed back a bit and delayed longer until we got all of our t’s crossed, i’s dotted, and ducks-in-a-row.  It was a bit of a blessing in disguise, as the game updates since then are very significant in several areas.

The feedback was interesting, sometimes quite useful.  The simple fact is that if you want to improve your game, you need to listen to everything, everyone, take it all in, and process into something positive for everyone involved.  It isn’t always the easiest thing to do, and you have to swallow your pride quite often.

The two recurring themes we kept seeing was that 1) Visibility was still an issue, and 2) That the game looked dated.  I wondered “how” it looked dated…after all our lighting and shadowing, many other effects are in fact quite modern, but I am not blinded enough to believe that we compare to current AAA engines, so I always wanted to know the reasons people might have a certain viewpoint – so that I could IMPROVE what was lacking.  Alas, a few people, honest people, made comments that when coalated together, it started to make sense – our particle effects were really outdated looking, and dragging the entire experience down(an oversight, due to familiarity of looking at it for so long).  So, a huge part of the first round of updates dealt with revamping the particle and weapon effects.  The flamethrower in particular was one that received quite a bit of love.

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The next issue was visibility.  In fact, that has been a criticism of Alien Arena for years, so we had addressed that by adding fog effects to the players the further they got away.  It was a compromise – some, especially those who were looking from the outside had repeatedly requested “bright skins”, something I (as an artist), despised.  I really just am not a fan of the trend of “Tron-like” art in the first person shooter world.  Maybe I’m stubborn(no, not maybe, I AM).  The fog seemed like a decent compromise, but the problem was it didn’t work well enough in some situations.  Something I found firsthand during a match last month, when the map(Dismal) caused that fog effect to blend in due to the fog already in the map itself.  Many Alien Arena maps have fog, and while I’ve endlessly play-tested, it just never seemed to affect me personally as much as it did that evening.  Maybe my computer-eyes are getting worse, but it needed some “oomph”.  I had noticed some games adding an outline around players, but that was kind of ugly/lame I though, so I had a little algorithm for doing some cell-shading that I thought if I increased the brightness of the shading to be greater than that of the fog on the player, it would not only increase visibility, but also look pretty cool, and it did.

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Shown here are the CTF effects for players.  (DM games use green).  Getting visibility worked out was a top priority, because Alien Arena and COR Entertainment are returning to dreamhack2017in just a few days!  We will have our own booth, and will be running prize tournaments during the event.  Hourly match winners will receive some goodies(swag and free Steam keys), and the winners will compete at the end of the day for the grand prizes(100 dollar value).  I personally will be there along with other COR Entertainment staff, handing out free stuff, taking questions, and cheering on the players.  Stop by, say hi, sign up to win, or simply sit down and test drive the game out for yourself.

The next major update should occur in a month or two, and this update will focus heavily on content, as well as the team modes.  Tactical has already received some major changes/improvements thanks to some of the reviewer’s inputs, and CTF also has a target squarely on it’s back(this should make certain people I know happy!).  Fan favorite maps are going to be making their way back into the game(Terminal, Stronghold, for example).  During Dreamhack I will be working on Terminal, so come by and see how it’s done if you want, throw in some input/feedback on it’s progress, and help shape something in the game.

Meanwhile, some memories of Dreamhack 2013!

Our booth provided by Intel:dhack4

Team Dignitas competing in Alien Arena tourneydhack3

Winners posing with Team Dignitasdhack2

COR Entertainments Head of Public Relations, Victor Balke posing with Team Dignitasdhack1

Dreamhack is just a few days away, and we are excited to make some new friends and memories, and take part in the World’s greatest gaming convention!

 

 

The Martians have landed!

Four years ago we began the monumental task of rebuilding a game from the ground up that had taken twice that long to reach the level it had.  This Friday, November 3rd, at long last, after seemingly flying through an endless starfield devoid of a finish line, Alien Arena: Warriors Of Mars is officially released on STEAM.  With 23 maps, 10 characters, and 10 weapons(each with two firing modes), the game has quite a bit of official content.  Our small team of developers and community members/contributors, showed a dedication and vision and willingness to reach a goal that probably seemed impossible back in the Fall of 2013.  Yet here we are, after countless refinements, do-overs, new ideas, and alterations, a game that we are confident in and proud of.  Indeed, the march to war begins…

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The genre of Arena First Person Shooters has been seemingly forgotten in recent years, but with Quake Champions and new Unreal Tournament on the horizon, there was no better time to revive our entry in the realm.  We feel we have our own little niche, our own take on what this type of game should be.  You won’t find load-outs, in-game transactions, or any type of monetary demands that give some players an unfair advantage.  No, Alien Arena isgeneration3_36 at it’s heart an old-school Arena FPS game, it’s what die-hard players in the scene have been clamoring for over the years but constantly ignored by the the AAA companies.  It’s purity is only exceeded by it’s willingness to add innovation without damaging the nature of the beast.  Exciting features like the Minderaser, wild powerups, triggerable hazards, reward system, and duel mode combined with gobs of available mutators push the game into something more than your basic, traditional Arena FPS.  Of course all of the Steam goodies are now part of the game too, such as stats, leaderboards, achievements, trading cards, and the Community Hub.

I won’t go into all of the details of what was overhauled, but suffice it to say, the game (codenamed “Generation 3” by developers) is an entire new generation of the game.  Only the generation3_23historically best maps were kept, and each of them was overhauled.  Several brand new maps, using new technologies were added, and all received an attention to detail that was honed from years of player input.  Thanks to performance enhancements over the years, it also afforded us to go into far more detail than before with all of the content, something that provided the initial inspiration for this new game to begin with.  Allowing for server ops to set tickrates as high as 120fps allowed for ultra smooth, precise online play, and various improvements to the game code for balance, speed, and new features make it an experience that will be well worth the long development cycle.

Alien Arena features a very high skill ceiling for players.  The various movement types and combinations plus the powerful, but balanced weapons make for frantic game play.  Instead of following the trend of weakening weapons to the point of becoming frustrating, Alien Arena retains the power of the earlier games of the genre.  A rocket generation3_47directly to the face will kill you…as it should.  Your health does not just regenerate automatically, you need to pick up health items.  Map control is an essential skill to learn, and if you think you know fast movement, you don’t know anything until you’ve mastered the art of dodge-chaining.  Feeling a bit newbish?  No worries, we have matchmaking stats that will allow you to select servers that best align to your skills.  Unlike some others, you don’t have to sit around, waiting in a lobby for a match.  Just open the server browser like days of yore, click on a server you like, see if your skill matches up(or not), and connect.  Simple. Pure. Fun.

Worried about how it will perform on your gaming rig?  Dont.  Unlike many recent games, we have left the ability to toggle/tweak many settings, and if you don’t know what some of it means, we have a number of factory presets that will do it for you.  You can play the game with dramatic lighting, sun rays, glows, gore, and a variety of post-process generation3_8effects, or you can turn it all off, one-by-one, or all at once.  Want more visibility?  You can practically make the game textureless if you want.  Or you can adjust the contrast, map lighting, or brightness.  There are few limits to what you can alter – if it’s not in the menu, chances are there is a cvar that you can set manually if desired.  However, you shouldn’t have to worry about running the game on the highest settings, as the engine has been made incredibly efficient over the years of development.  If you have a problem with performance on a modern gaming rig, put in a message to our tech support or the Community Hub, or on the official forums, and someone will gladly get you pointed in the right direction with any driver settings that might be adversly affecting performance.

Arena FPS games are not for everyone, but if you’re into them, this game delivers what you would expect, and quite a bit more.  If you like brutal, fast action, and maybe a little retro sci-fi humor/style mixed in, this is the choice for you.  If playing other people isn’t generation3_46your thing, or you’re not quite ready for that, you can practice offline against our computer controlled artificial players.  They have personalities all of their own, you might forget you’re not playing real people!  Then when you’re ready, click the server browser, find a match against some strangers who may one day be friends, or set up a LAN with your buddies.  Besides, what could be more fun than running around with powerful weapons and wasting a bunch of little green men?

Get the game on STEAM and get those lasers firing!

 

 

 

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Finally, four years after beginning this massive project, Alien Arena: Warriors Of Mars has reached Beta stage!  We will be releasing it via our website very shortly, and are requesting as much feedback as possible in order to make this the very best game it can be.  The amount of work put into this game since December, 2013 is astounding.  Forget what you knew about the game, everything is updated..I mean everything.

I believe that we have created a really fun arena FPS game, that plays fast and smooth, has unique and interesting nuances, and is visually/aurally immersive.  There are many things about this game that I hope hit the mark for both competitive and casual gamers, and there are a variety of reasons I strongly believe that Alien Arena: Warriors Of Mars can be a successful game:

SIMPLICITY

There is nothing terribly complex about Alien Arena fundamentally.  It’s your classic arena FPS game, without loadouts, forced matchmaking, waiting in queues, or any of the annoying things that seem to alienate(no pun intended) the hard-core aFPS player.  Ammo is basic, armor is fairly simple to understand, weapons are easily recognizable generation3_46and useful, and you won’t spend half of your energy trying to learn complex map layouts.  The game possesses much of Q3’s sensibility, while adding a few nuances that are unique and fun.  Joining matches is as simple as clicking on the server you want to join – there IS matchmaking – but it only advises you of the overall opponent skill level rather than force anything on you.  Whether your preferred game is Duel, Pub FFA, or CTF, Alien Arena has a mode to suit you.  While you(or server ops) can configure various mutators to customize any game/gametype, you cannot configure weapon or physics balance – meaning you know exactly how the the game is going to be when you join.

HIGH SKILL CEILING

While the trend of newer aFPS games has been to “dumb down” the learning curve, Alien Arena has done the opposite.  The physics are based on Quake 2, arguably the best, yet trickiest physics in the genre.  However, Alien Arena added quite a bit to that, primarily generation3_23the ability to do UT-style dodges, as well as leaning around corners and “sneaking” silently.  The dodges can be “chained”, a technique that requires a lot of precise timing, but can reward the player with almost insane speed gains.  Weapons are designed with trickjumping in mind, and nearly every weapon can be used in this manner with a variety of methods.  The overall speed of the game is noticeably much faster and crisper than what you find in more recent attempts to revive the Arena FPS genre.

WEAPONRY

Alien Arena deviates from the traditional aFPS weapon set a bit, while retaining many of the favorites, such as rocket launchers, chainguns, railgun clone, and blaster.  There is no shortage of weird alien guns, and some things that are very unique to Alien Arena such as the Minderaser, a weapon that every two minutes spawns in place of a respawning standard weapon.  The Minderaser fires two different alien robots, which not only kill their targets, but erase one of their frags along with it.  When the signal of a spawning generation3_3Minderaser is heard, players will scramble to where they may believe the last weapon picked up was in order to get it, adding a really cool dynamic to the game.  While the trend over the years has been to weaken weapons overall, Alien Arena bucked that trend wholeheartedly!  Weapons are powerful – a rocket directly to the face results in DEATH, as it should!  Health does not regenerate, and this combination of strong weaponry results in game play that is very, very fast paced.

ARENAS

We included 6 Deathmatch, 2 Capture the Flag, and 1 Tactical map in the beta.  The full version includes 23 maps overall!  That is far more content than any other of the new aFPS games.  There is a large cross section of themes, layouts, and sizes of these levels, generation3_36but all have a unifying style of Alien infestation, destruction, and artistic feel.  All levels have at least some degree of vertical, circular, dynamic game play.  You won’t find expansive “corridoritis” maps in Alien Arena any longer, everything is compact, fast, and smooth.  It’s been said that Alien Arena had previously felt “cluttered”, and that was true – so the clutter has been pushed to the sides and clipped out, or made into something useful for trickjumping.  Out of 40 maps, only 23 made the final cut, and each has a unique flavor to it.

THE BOTS

A lot of effort was placed in this game, historically, into the bots.  This continues to be the case even now.  Our bots are among the most human-like you’re going to ever see in an generation3_51aFPS game.  They strafejump, circle strafe, retreat, sneak, crouch, bunnyhop, and do trick jumps like rocket jumping.  They make a beeline to a base when they get a flag, and they know when to plant and detonate bombs in Tactical Mode.  They will taunt you, humiliate you, and really piss you right off.  Playing offline against the bots is an incredibly fun and satisfying experience that will help you learn the game in order to play real foes.

PERFORMANCE/SCALEABILITY

I can tell you without hesitation that Alien Arena will run faster, and on many systems that new aFPS games simply cannot.  This doesn’t mean that we have watered down anything visually – at least nothing you’re really going to notice in a game this fast paced.  4096×4096 textures are wonderful for taking great screenshots, but you’re simply not going to notice that fidelity in-game, if you can even run said game at that type of texture generation3_54.jpgquality.  Alien Arena’s CRX engine is the model of efficiency, and still manages to add in quite a few cool, modern effects to make the game visually pleasing.  Visibility factor?  Well, we use a technique to make players more visible at distance, and it’s very easy to pick them out, and far more pleasing than eye-cancer brightskins or “tronifying”.  Players are “fogged” by distance, making them easier to see without the use of bright skins.  While they do have their share of glowing bits, it’s not totally overwhelming.  Lastly, you can pretty much make the game look anyway you like, as we retained all of the picmip, brightness/contrast, and other tweaks that allow you to customize the look, and, performance.  Our netcode is tried and true, simple, and unlagged.  If you’ve got the network horsepower you can run the server at a tickrate of 120 fps for amazing precision, if not, you can go as low as 10 fps.

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CONCLUSION

Download and play the beta (http:red.planetarena.org).  Beat on it mercilessly, and most of all, give us some feedback!  We may not always agree on critiques, but we most certainly always listen to them, and if it makes sense, we implement changes.  Our goal is to make this the most streamlined, fast-paced, fun, and furious frag-fest in existence, and this is your chance to help shape the final product that is set to be released on November er 3rd.  Enjoy!

 

 

As I write this, Alien Arena: Warriors Of Mars is drawing near completion.  Three months ago, began perhaps the most intensive personal investment I have ever made in this game.  I have spent tireless hours trying to hone, fine-tune, polish, and finish the project that began nearly four years ago in the Fall of 2013 – the complete overhaul, rebirth if you will, of a game that has been part of my life for nearly fifteen years now.  In April, I nervously applied for Steam Greenlight, and anxiously awaited, knowing full well the importance of the game getting on Steam if it were to continue on, and build(re-build) a vital playerbase, as well as create a potential financial support system for the developers who’ve put their blood, sweat, and tears into this game for so long.  Without Steam, there is little future for a PC game – it’s just the reality of the times we live in.  To be clear, there will remain a free version of Alien Arena, and the engine is open sourced.  The free version will not have all of the stats, achievements, leaderboards, etc that the Steam version has, and the Steam version will have quite a bit of additional maps and content.

We were Greenlit in just over two weeks…

Since then, the amount of work that has gone into the game to get it ready has been extraordinary.  Every single map was heavily polished.  The weapon and player animations were vastly expanded on.  The menus, skyboxes, various effects, all ramped up.  The Alien Arena of July seems vastly improved over the Alien Arena of April.  A great number of bugs were stomped out, as well as optimizations were made, and it just feels, looks, plays so much better than it did.  The very hardest thing for me to do is going to call it “done”.  I am constantly finding new ways to improve the game.  At some point however, I am going to have to, along with my fellow developers, make the call.

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It’s no secret that Quake Champions is coming…and that it’s going to be GREAT.  I have little doubt that it will succeed in reviving the genre of the Arena Shooter, and perhaps take it to a level never seen before.  The gaming world is a vastly different place than it was in the Quake 3 days, and while Quake 4 and Quake Live really missed the mark, I believe that QC will not…in fact…I’m counting on it.  The best thing for Alien Arena will be for Quake Champions to completely knock it out of the park.

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We are listening…watching…we want to see what people like, or don’t like about QC, and find our little niche, our angle, our hooks.  I think we have quite a few actually, aside from the price point being 1/5th of what QC will be.  For starters, Alien Arena runs much more smoothly on older hardware.  We have taken great care to create efficiency, as well as improve the fidelility without going overboard to the point where you have detail that is practically unnoticed in game situations, yet bogs down even a robust PC.  Make no mistake, we know we aren’t going to be quite on the same level of graphical splendor that the latest AAA titles are, but I feel it’s at least in the ballpark, and certainly the goal to paint a pretty picture without sacrificing too much performance has been met.

There has been a greater focus on duel – from the standpoint of the map selection.  The stock DM maps in Alien Arena(15 of them, btw!) have a duel-centric shift.  Small to medium sized maps with a lot of circular, vertical layouts where duelers won’t find themselves constantly hunting down their opponents are the bulk of the maps, though we did throw in some more sprawling affairs such as Dismal, Wasteland, and Neptune that make for some great FFA play.  Weapons have been balanced further, with a focus on making each weapon purposeful in the right hands.  Overall, Alien Arena’s weapons are more powerful than what you would see in say, Quake Live – making for faster, more frantic game-play that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  We didn’t forget team, or casual play either – and it all can be done offline against AI that has also been heavily addressed to play smarter, and more realistically.

(Martian Cyborg in DM-Turbo)

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Alien Arena’s maps have a wide variety of themes, all tied in to a central, singular storyline that permeates each and every location.  From hi-tech substations such as Turbo and Dismal, to demolished post-apocolyptic nightmares like Extermination, Annihilation, and Purgatory, to the barren deserts of Abyss Of Blood and Wasteland, Alien Arena covers the gamut, as well as adding in a good amount of horror and gore.

(Blood and guts litter the walls and floors of DM-Crucible)

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(Hi-tech hijinx in DM-Dynamo – and piranhas!)

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(Hell awaits in DM-Babel)

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(Desert canyons of DM-Wasteland)

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(No shortage of weird alien shit in DM-Deathray)

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So why Alien Arena?  Quake Champions is set to redefine the genre, and likely set a new bar of quality and exciting game play that will be tough for any game to measure up to.  Well…I think, I believe, that Alien Arena has a niche, a piece of the pie reserved for those who wish for something a little different, and something that is as previously mentioned, far less expensive and far less resource intensive.  Alien Arena has a real theme(and IMO the coolest of themes!), a real story, and it’s own unique weaponry that isn’t 100% married to the traditional Quake set.  Alien Arena adds interesting new dynamics to the game play, things that alter, no, make that enhance how players will control a map – such as the Minderaser weapon.  Alien Arena has vastly more stock content than any of the other recent aFPS games, and it literally has *hundreds* of 3rd party DLC to offer.  Alien Arena retains much of the genre’s purity, while bringing in new elements to make things more interesting than what was going on for the past decade or so in the aFPS world.

As I write this, we are targetting a Fall 2017 release.  There will be a beta in the next few weeks, that will be by invite(register at our forums).  The beta is likely to include a few different maps/types, and there will be servers set up at various locations with several different tickrates, and game modes.  This beta will serve as an opportunity, especially for those in the competitive scene, to get their input heard, and as in many cases in the past, implemented.

The journey, the complete revamping of this game over the past four years, is finally reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.  It has been one of the most exhausting, arduous, even grueling endeavors, but I can say it’s also been highly enjoyable!

 

 

 

New Tech – The Wasteland

While many of Alien Arena’s new arenas are revamped concepts that were deemed to be the “keepers” or the “best of the best”, the new technology that we developed afforded some opportunities to make maps that were completely new and innovative.  The Wasteland was one such map – originally a tech demo – turned into a dynamic, fast and extremely fun map to play, using the new terrain technology that Max Eliaser had implemented.   It’s rather large, expansive, not typical of the maps of Alien Arena which tend to be smaller, but quite vertical and circular with alternate routes that actually make it a tantalizing duel map

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At the time of concept, my vision was to see if I could create a “Rage” like world using the CRX engine, a desert canyon, filled with cactus, sagebrush, and rocks.  This was never meant for Alien Arena – in fact, the tech was being created for our next game.  However, it didn’t take long for me to see the potential of using this for Alien Arena – especially since the game was receiving a complete overhaul anyway.  Soon the level took shape, a horseshoe shaped canyon, with several ridges that allowed bypassing the circuitous route(and providing some great, vertical ambush opportunities!).

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Various structures were placed about it, including a number of rickety walkways connecting high points, or allowing access to them, shacks, industrial buildings, power plants, etc.  Then I added a number of details, things to give it some atmosphere such as burned out tanks and cars, broken overpasses, crashed flying saucers, a makeshift brothel, and of course blood, guts and oozing slime from alien devices and toxic barrels.  Lastly, I placed the weapons, game items, and because of the open design of the level, a pair of jetpacks!

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I wasn’t done there though.  I added moving tumbleweeds, and blowing dust off of the high ridges, animated hanging metal sheets and hanging meat to give it a windy feeling.  More crashed saucers with gashes in the sand where they slid down, more blood…more guts.  Soon, the map attained the vision I originally had – a wasteland outpost that was the scene of a massive battle, with many casualties.

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Wasteland is a different kind of arena – and Alien Arena is striving to inject some new ideas into the genre.  While it will offer many very traditional style arenas, there are some new ideas and concepts, as well as themes that I think people will find refreshing, and most of all, fun.  Wasteland offers a host of trickjumping opportunies, and it will be exciting to see how players navigate, especially in duel.  It will be very intersting to see the strategies employed to control the map – I have what I consider good ones, and ones that I thought of in the design – but other players may have different ideas.  For now, the playtesting has been quite interesting, and a little different than what most are used to – which was the ultimate goal.

This tech, and level have come a long way in the two years of development.  It should be interesting to see how it looked at the start, and how it progressed.  Here are some screenshots taken very early on, just to give you an idea of how it came to be.  As you can see, the layout of the terrain was roughly the same, but the coloring, texturing, detail, as well as the rendering was far different.

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I personally get a kick out of seeing the changes, and the evolution of the game.  A map such as this, took a number of refinements, re-designs, and sometimes painful internal, and external critiques before it could reach it’s potential.  As we near release, I will be writing more articles such as this, along with some videos of specific maps, weapons, and characters.  The journey to this point has been quite a ride, and I will also talk about some of the other aspects that were rebuilt, improved, or added.  Ultimately, the goal is to release a game that feels fresh and new, but retains the elements of old school deathmatch/duel that seem to be lost in recent games of the genre.  We are out there, listening, play testing other games, and paying very close attention to what players are saying about them.  I think the lust for speed, action, and competitiveness will find a tasty morsel in this game when we release!

Evolution.

It’s been 13 years since Alien Arena debuted as a demo in August of 2004.  Since then, the game has twice received extensive artistic and content overhauls, dividing the timeline into 3 distinct generations.  I thought it would be fun to re-create one of the recent screenshots taken of the game in each of the generations of the game.  The model is the Martian Enforcer player character, and the level is Dm-Babel, one of my(and many fans of the game) all-time favorite levels.  Partially inspired by the famous UT2k3 level “Inferno”, Babel grew into something a bit more, and through a combination of layout improvements and artistic updates, became one of the game’s most exciting and stunning levels.  Each of these shots was taken using the latest version of the engine, but in an effort to try and remain somewhat true what the game was at these times, the effects have been tweaked to represent that properly.  Babel was introduced to the game during the Spring of 2007, during the height of Generation 1’s popularity.

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In 2008, 4 years after the debut of Generation 1, the game received a signifigant update.  A few years later, Babel was also updated, adding new sections, textures, and flowing lava.  The Martian Enforcer and his weapon have a distinctive new look, and the engine was by then capable of much better rendering using a new model format, with GLSL and vastly improved shaders and lighting effects.  Generation 2 had peaked by then, and soon would find itself relegated to the archives.

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Now, Generation 3 of the Martian Enforcers, standing in the same spot on a heavily updated Babel.  Featuring new textures, terrain, effects, and decals you can see just how far the art, and game has come along.  This isn’t your daddy’s Alien Arena!  It’s a brand new, massively updated game that has been reworked at every turn, visually, aurally, physically – it’s a Brave New World, and you won’t believe how much it has evolved until you get your hands on it, and feel how much more smoothly it plays, how much better the animation is(from every aspect), and how FAST it plays.  In an era where it seems that the AFPS genre has been slowed down, to the point of feeling, and looking like players are wading in molasses, Alien Arena looks, plays, and feels crisp, tight and fast.

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13 years of evolution.

 

Powerups!

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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”.

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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.

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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

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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

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Toxikk

 

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Diabotical

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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

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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 http://red.planetarena.org/media.html 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…