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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.

Doom

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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…

 

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.